By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences
“Empty supermarket shelves, empty streets—how do you photograph a danger you can’t see?”
This was the question that photographer Nanna Heitman asked herself in March from Russia, which has 940,000 reported cases of COVID-19.
“At the beginning I was kind of lost; many of us photographers trying to keep pandemic diaries were talking about the same challenges.”
She photographed traditions transformed. She traveled to the centuries-old city of Tver on the banks of the Volga River. There, worshipers gathered (above) to celebrate Orthodox Easter, Russia’s most important religious holiday. The celebrations were muted because of the pandemic, though many people did not follow orders to wear masks.
In Moscow, another celebration, commemorating the Allied victory over Germany in World War II, was muted and surreal as well. Envisioned as a big 75th anniversary blowout, it had been delayed six weeks until the capital had lifted orders to self-quarantine. And then, few turned out (above) for the parade, which came a week ahead of constitutional changes that could keep Vladimir Putin in power until 2036. Just yesterday, a leading challenger to Putin fell into a coma after a suspected poisoning, a fate that befell other critics of the Kremlin chief.
Nanna went to the front lines of Russia’s current fight. “It was shocking inside the hospitals,” she writes. At Number 52, the first hospital she visited, a swimming pool had been transformed (above) to accommodate the influx of doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients.
Inside one room, a Moscow intensive care patient lies prone, a position researchers say can improve oxygenation for patients in acute respiratory distress.
Now, the government has announced a vaccine, amid rumors and cynicism: “In Russia everyone was joking about how people in power were trying the vaccine first on themselves,” Nanna writes. “But if it works—if it's tolerated—I would like to have it, too.”
Pictured above, Sister Natalia Georgivna brings daylight into a Moscow flat. The visiting nun, who looks after the elderly, lonely, and sick, says her caseload increased significantly as the pandemic intensified.
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Today in a minute
What says 2020 best? This image Tuesday of California's burning Napa County by Noah Berger captures the broadening devastation of the Golden State’s latest fires—as well as a COVID-19 social distancing reminder and the ruined wreckage of a senior center. The blaze, among dozens started by thousands of lightning strikes amid a statewide heat wave, went on to destroy multiple homes. Tens of thousands of people have been asked to evacuate. Here’s why the California wildfires have been getting worse.
Photographing animals, ethically: Respect should be a guiding principle, says Beverly Joubert, who has photographed wildlife for Nat Geo for decades. Honest captioning, respecting the law, and doing no harm to the animals are among categories that photographer Melissa Groo outlines in her Nat Geo story. It was originally published last year, but we brought it back to coincide with World Photography Day, on Wednesday.
Roman emperors, ‘photographed’: Machine learning and editing software have been used create likenesses of 54 ancient leaders, Smithsonian magazine reports. “For this project, I have transformed, or restored (cracks, noses, ears, etc.) 800 images of busts,” says Toronto-based artist Daniel Voshart. His goal was an image as true as it could be, without romanticizing them and making them seem heroic.
Your Instagram of the day
If at first you don’t succeed ... We tried in last week’s newsletter to show you Flamingo Bob in a classroom, but production gremlins gave you another image instead. Here is Bob, who was rescued in 2016 but whose injuries were too severe to return to the wild. So photographer Jasper Doest, whose veterinarian cousin Odette rescued Bob, has captured the bird in his new life, including helping out conservation education at local schools in Curaçao. Says Doest: “Turns out Bob's the best teacher—all the kids love him. When the flamingo starts flapping his wings, children start to flap their arms, and so do grown-ups. They are mesmerized by his beauty.”
Subscriber exclusive: Meet Flamingo Bob, the poster bird for conservation
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The big takeaway
See it now: This week marks a century since women in America fought successfully for the right to vote. Maybe you can’t catch in person our exhibit of Nat Geo images of depict women from around the world, but this virtual reality visit is open to all, 24-7. The exhibit features this 1918 image of Japanese women dressed in traditional kimonos celebrating the annual cherry blossoms. It was taken by pioneering Nat Geo woman photographer and writer Eliza R. Scidmore, who played a role in getting Japanese cherry trees planted near the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Related: 100 years, 100 women artists, 100 banners for female empowerment
In a few words
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On Mondays, Debra Adams Simmons covers the latest in history. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Victoria Jaggard on science, George Stone on travel, and Rachael Bale on animal and wildlife news.
The last glimpse
Pink parade: In Hong Kong in the early 1990s, a woman poses next to her pink Rolls Royce while wearing a matching mink coat. The archival image was one of 31 picked during July by Photo of the Day editor Breann Birkenbuel. The selections include the joy of a packed ice cream shop and of a crowd dancing to Bollywood beats. “I was reminded,” Breann says, “that we’re all in this together. I hope this collection of vintage images brings you a bit of joy as we head into fall.”
See: 31 mesmerizing vintage pictures from the Nat Geo archives