Photos show the world's essential workers serving on the front lines

Their work was often unappreciated before, but they’re keeping society running during a crisis.

Istanbul, Turkey

A city employee disinfects a street in Beyoglu, a tourist district empty of tourists.
Photograph by Emin Ozmen, Magnum Photos

The workers who now find themselves on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic have always been essential but we're just now noticing them. A worldwide health crisis forced us to realize that we depended on them—and that they're risking their lives. With the streets empty and much nonessential work stopped, we are finally seeing the faces of the people we need to survive.

Photographers also perform essential work, by showing us people we might not otherwise see—the fumigators working at night in Nairobi and the garbage collectors driving dark streets in Normandy. In South Africa, a photographer notices workers returning electricity to a poor neighborhood, while in Brazil, another finds a shopkeeper delivering groceries to his customers. In London, a doctor reads up on the coronavirus after a long shift, while just outside Paris, workers in a coffin factory double their production. (Learn about the new role played by paramedics and undertakers in France.)

How has our view of what constitutes vital work changed? 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.

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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