'It has become our sanctuary': The calming power of nature in a pandemic

Pictures capture the solace that people are finding in the outdoors.

Photograph by Ivan Kashinsky
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Topanga, California

"We've been walking the roads around our house," says photographer Ivan Kashinsky, "searching for places for our boys to let off some steam."

Photograph by Ivan Kashinsky

The COVID-19 pandemic may have shut down much of the human-controlled part of the world but, thankfully, nature hasn’t gotten the message. Birds still chirp, flowers burst into bloom, breezes sway the trees, and people drink in as much of the outdoors as their local rules allow. The streets are empty, but the parks—where they’re open—are crowded.

Photographers, largely confined to their homes like everyone else, capture this yearning for nature. In Kuala Lumpur, a photographer pines for the lush tropical life beyond his windowpane. In Topanga, California, a family saves their walks for dusk, when all the neighbors have gone inside. In Amman, Jordan, a photographer looks for solace in the sky; in Istanbul, another discovers it in the water. And a young boy in a Johannesburg township finds beauty in the wildflowers along a barbed wire fence.

How do we experience nature when our access to it becomes limited? National Geographic and Magnum Photos photographers bring you a global look at how coronavirus is affecting the worlds they see inside—and just outside—their windows. (See how they captured families adapting to a world changed by coronavirus.)

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has resulted in most Magnum photographers being restricted in their movements. As part of a broader photographer-led response, a new series “Diary of a Pandemic” will present selections of new work, while "Quarantine Conversations," will present Magnum photographers in frank and unedited dialogues about work, current affairs, and everything in-between. Follow Magnum Photos on Instagram.
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New York, New York

"I've always wondered who cares for the rooftop garden across from my building," says photographer Ismail Ferdous. "Like other New Yorkers, I am now getting to see my neighbors."

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London, England

"To give my children a sense of the slow passing of time, I decided to photograph a few things that we could see at home and out of the window every day until the lock-down was over," says photographer Olivia Arthur, who received these flowers for Mother's Day (March 22 in the United Kingdom). "We watched them droop and dry up until it was time to say goodbye, a little under two weeks."

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Bahia, Brazil

"My husband has been practicing social distancing since we moved to the countryside two years ago," says photographer Luisa Dörr. "We moved looking for an easier life close to nature."

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VLAARDINGEN, Holland

"We share this backyard with the 18 families living in our apartment block," says photographer Jasper Doest. "This quiet enclosed patch of green space is heaven for our two girls. My oldest daughter, Merel, lies on her back and looks at the clouds that slowly drift by."

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les Vosges, France

"The strangest thing is that now cities are silent," says photographer Jerome Sessini, "and the forest is loud with animal and bird noises."

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Johannesburg, South Africa

"Nature is a complicated term when it comes to Johannesburg," says photographer Lindokuhle Sobekwa. People in the townships often don't have enough room for gardens, he explains. "Growing up, there were always some flowers that grew near a dumping site that we used to pick and play with."

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Gothenburg, Sweden

On an evening walk, photographer Acacia Johnson and her partner discovered an old boat stranded on top of the highest hill in their neighborhood. The boat prompted some questions, she says: "How did we get here? How do we get back? But also: What can we see from up here that we couldn't see when things were normal?"

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Paris, France

Photographer Thomas Dworzak celebrated Nowruz, Persian New Year, with his wife. Later, she packed up the plants from the holiday decorations. She planned to return the greenery to nature by throwing it into the Seine.

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Xalisco, Mexico

"Our rooftop is a place we always wanted to go but never did," says photographer César Rodriguez. "Now we are using it to see beyond our house to the mountains around us."

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Naklo, Slovenia

Ciril Jazbec and his family hiked from their home through a forest to reach an isolated spot by the Sava river. "The river seems cleaner now," he says.

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Athens, Greece

Photographer Enri Canaj nurtures a little jungle on his balcony. "A naughty pirate makes the animals fly from the second floor," he says, "but everyone gets rescued and is safe."

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Johannesburg, South Africa

"We are very privileged to have this outdoor space to safely go to," says photographer Miora Rajaonary. "It is more than a playground. It has become our sanctuary, an invitation for us to look closer and longer and contemplate."

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Mszczonow, Poland

Photographer Rafał Milach found a soothing scene in the sauna area of a waterpark that opened right before the coronavirus outbreak began.

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

"I climb onto a bench to gain a better view of the world from the glass panes of my living room on the ninth floor," says photographer Ian Teh. "Fragrant sweetness lingers in the air from nearby trees after a recent tropical downpour."

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Ontario, Canada

"I live on a 75-acre farm," says photographer Larry Towell. "When I look at the picture of our eight-year-old granddaughter Tilley helping me load firewood, I feel pretty good about the future."

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Moscow, Russia

"Moscow is under complete lock-down," says photographer Nanna Heitmann. "Now only the cat can enjoy the empty and silent parks. I miss nature—the forests and the fields—more than ever."

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Istanbul, Turkey

"I was walking near the Bosporus strait, thinking that I'd never felt this lonely in the city before" says photographer Emin Ozmen, "when I saw this incredible scene—thousands of jellyfish enjoying the quiet deep blue water of Istanbul."

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Petaluma, California

"This past week I've been looking out and looking in at where I live," says photographer Jim Goldberg, "walking the perimeter of the land and photographing the things I find there, including Harry the horse."

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Johannesburg, South Africa

On the banks of the Jukskei River in Alexandria Township, Gulshan Khan photographed Listen Dube, who prays there every day. "There is a power in praying alone," Dube told Khan, "and connecting with nature."

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Rochester, New York

"We have taken some trips to the banks of the Genesee River," says photographer Gregory Halpern. "Parts of it are designated as a park but the rest is empty scraggly bits of nature which has suited our needs perfectly."

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Madrid, Spain

"At home, I only have artificial plants, beautiful but lifeless," says photographer Cristina Garcia Rodero. "Now that I'm home and can take care of them, I would like to have my place full of plants and bouquets of flowers, and watch how they open day by day and smell of spring."

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PETALUMA, CALIFORNIA

The little chicks kept by photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti were growing so fast that she brought them outside to "meet their future harassers."

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Nairobi, Kenya

"I'm grateful for the shock of color I receive each morning," says photographer Nichole Sobecki, "the world's gifts strewn across my yard, a green skin covering over our wounds."

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Amman, Jordan

"We are very fortunate to have a terrace in our home," says Moises Saman. "It allows us to look up at the sky and the clouds whenever things get too stressful down at our level."

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Tintern, Wales

"The first thing I do every morning is make coffee and look at the birds through my side window," says photographer David Hurn. "As I contemplate the world shut down, I can't but feel for 'our feathered friends.' They spend their whole lives braced for violent death by some predator or another. Do they know?"

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Ghent, Belgium

On her daily walk, photographer Bieke Depoorter encountered an amateur astronomer. "This image I saw through the telescope made me quiet," she says, "imagining another world, feeling the comfort of the cosmos."

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Topanga, California

"Our short daily outings are always in the evening to avoid our neighbors," says photographer Karla Gachet. "We try to find hidden places where we can just be. Feeling the wind in our skin, we let go of all our day's drama as the sun goes down."