These photos capture a world paused by coronavirus

Stuck at home from New York to Nairobi, National Geographic photographers focus on family, empty streets, and walks in the wild.

Photograph by Luca Locatelli
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Milan, Italy

”In Italy, the situation is sad and out of control, and I’m in the epicenter of the storm, Lombardy,” says photographer Luca Locatelli. ”The most vulnerable are the elderly, like my mother, an 82-year-old stubborn, tough, and lovely Italian grandma. She can’t understand this invisible tsunami that doesn’t let anyone have contact with her. It’s sad for me to not let her see her nephews, not hug her, and to try to convince her to wear a mask. I bring her food and my camera. After 10 days, it has become our ritual and reality.”

Photograph by Luca Locatelli

These photos capture a world paused by coronavirus

Stuck at home from New York to Nairobi, National Geographic photographers focus on family, empty streets, and walks in the wild.

“Andrà tutto bene.”

Jiayou.”

“Together, apart.”

These phrases, in Italian, Mandarin, and English, respectively, roughly translate as “solidarity in solitude.” It’s as if, around the world, the creep of COVID-19 has created a universal call and response. If we can’t gather in person, we’ll join together in spirit against the shared threat of coronavirus.

From San Francisco to Milan to Tokyo and beyond, we are staying home, flattening the curve, socially distancing. That means National Geographic photographers are, as well.

What does this pandemic look like from their now geographically limited perspectives? We asked several photographers to share their thoughts on the worlds they see inside—and just outside—their windows.

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KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA

“It is approximately 7 p.m. on March 21, 2020. A train leaves Pusat Bandar Damansara Station (my local subway station) during rush hour. The highways below are empty, when they would normally be jammed until after 8 p.m.,” says photographer Ian Teh. “The Malaysian government has imposed the Movement Control Order nationwide for two weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19. We are only allowed to go out to purchase food or medicine, an occasion I used to take this picture. It’s a grave reminder of what we face in Malaysia and around the globe.”

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TOPANGA, CALIFORNIA

“It is beautiful to slow down and spend so much time together as a family, but it can also drive us nuts,” says Ivan Kashinsky, who, with his photographer wife, Karla Gachet, has been spending many hours with their young children. “Our savior has been nature. We take a long evening walk every day, and the trails seem to heal our minds. Photography is another form of therapy. I have been documenting our lives with my phone as we head into the unknown.”

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ISTANBUL, TURKEY

“I worry about the future of my job as a freelance photographer who depends on travel and assignments abroad,” says Istanbul-based Rena Effendi. “I have traveled to about 20 countries in the past year for work, and I am somewhat enjoying the downtime at home with my daughter. The neighborhood I live in, Gihangir, is actually not so bad to be quarantined in. There are plenty of small grocery stores and everything you need is within walking distance.”

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GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN

“On the first morning of self-quarantine, an unexpected blossom of light appeared on the wall in my partner’s apartment near Gothenburg, Sweden,” says photographer Acacia Johnson. ”Since starting our self-quarantine, I've found myself making photographs in the way that I did when I first picked up a camera as a teenager—searching for quiet magic in the everyday. In this time of uncertainty, it’s comforting to recognize the beauty in the small details all around us.”

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BAHIA, BRAZIL

”Here in the south of Bahia there is no structure for this crisis. People continue to live their normal lives, going to the beach, respecting the distance sometimes,” says photographer Luisa Dörr. ”[Bahians] are a very tough people, raised in the forest, working their whole lives under harsh conditions. They say that a virus is not how they die. Also they are very religious, and most of them strongly believe that God will protect them.”

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BARCELONA, SPAIN

“A photographer is a photographer 24 hours a day all the year, not only while on assignment,” says Paolo Verzone, who captured the makeshift home gym he’s set up on his Barcelona rooftop. ”I feel perfectly comfortable documenting life from my kitchen or from a 215-square-foot room in quarantine. It’s the same as if I’m in the middle of a desert with a magical view.”

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MILAN, ITALY

“My instinctive response to this is to find beauty in what surrounds me, by rediscovering my house and its poetry through photography and video,” says Milanese photographer Camilla Ferrari, who hasn’t left home since March 9. “I believe this forced process of slowing down will soon reveal how our behavior has affected both the Earth and other humans. I’m trying to keep my mindset as positive as possible by reading, researching, meditating, and taking pictures.”

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MIAMI, FLORIDA

“I actually see a silver lining to this crisis, which is that the whole world has come to a standstill,” says photographer Maggie Steber. “I’m using the gift of time to work on an ongoing project: I collect things from my garden, and have been watching the activities of lizards, bees, and squirrels. Today I saw a lizard showdown and broke up a fight! As worried as I am about the world, work, and life in general, this hiatus has also given me calmness.”

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PORTLAND, OREGON

”I just arrived home from out of state, and it’s hard not to worry that I could be carrying a sleeping virus,” says photographer Corey Arnold. “I’m hoping to turn my new inability to travel into a positive with more time spent with my family. My partner, Aly Nicklas, and I live in Portland with our six-week-old son, Wolfgang. I normally fly out of state at least twice a month for work, but now, quarantined in my home, I find myself documenting a health and economic crisis looming in the not-so-distant future.”

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NEW YORK, New York

“Yesterday, my 82-year-old neighbor, Barbara, asked me to help set up a Zoom call on her iPad for her pilates class,” says photographer Ismail Ferdous. “She has been taking these classes with the same instructor for over three decades, and this was the first time Barbara had to participate remotely from her Manhattan apartment. Needing weights, she improvised and used [cans of] beans.”

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TEHRAN, IRAN

“Already traditional photographers are challenged by how they capture the virtual world and everything that happens there. With coronavirus, I find myself also physically challenged,” says Tehran photographer Newsha Tavakolian, who broke her own quarantine to shoot haunting images of her hometown. “I’m committed to telling stories, but often they are the stories of others. This time what is happening is also happening to me.”

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TOKYO, JAPAN

For Greece-based photographer Loulou d’Aki (who is Swedish), spending time in Japan during coronavirus was a mixed bag. “Being far from both my homes, the adopted one and the homeland, was emotionally quite taxing,” she says. “I would follow the news and talk to friends and family, but in times of crisis like this, it felt wrong to be on my own on the other side of the world. Japan had a very different way of handling a situation like this. When I arrived, they had already figured out how to keep the pandemic at bay. This made me feel calm on the one hand, but quite lonely on the other.” d’Aki shot this image of masked women in Tokyo’s Jimbocho neighborhood before returning to Sweden in late March.

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NAIROBI, KENYA

“With uncertainty comes a deeper awareness, not only for the shifting parabolic curves of this pandemic, but for the minutiae of daily life,” says photographer Nichole Sobecki. “The neighborhood hawks, the warmth of the ground beneath us, quiet moments together. I’ve spent much of the past decade watching as hotels and airports and rushed meals blurred into one line of continuous motion. Now, with all travel delayed, time stretches out. I worry about what things will look like in my adopted home of Kenya—vibrant, yet vastly unequal—when the full force of this storm hits.”

Maura Friedman is an associate photo editor for National Geographic Travel. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.