A Social Media project: Capturing intimate perspectives all around the world during COVID-19

Marie Hartlieb
May 15, 2020 · 4 min read
Laurence Philomene (@laurencephilomene), Montreal, Canada

When the pandemic started worldwide, Flor, Charlotte and me got together to think of possible projects to develop within this situation. We had opened Friendzone.Studio, — a creative agency for projects that matter — the year before in Berlin and now wanted to use our skills the best way we could while dealing with the crisis.

Charlotte had just gotten together with fellow photographer Hannah Yoon from Philadelphia as a result of an open call to support each other during this time by Women Photograph — a collaboration platform of female and non-binary photographers. They wanted to form an online support group and together we decided: we can do even more. Thus the project “the journal” was born.

Organising online participation from all around the world

Over 400 photographers joined “the journal”, looking for something to do and someone to connect with in a time of uncertainty and physical distancing. We organised them into groups of 8–10 people, depending on the time zones they were in. For instance: Group 6 are photographers from Argentina, El Salvador, Mexico, Uruguay and the USA. Group 42 live in Afghanistan, Armenia, Greece, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa and the UK. They connect via WhatsApp, e-mail or any medium of their choice. Most of them have never met before — neither online nor offline. And they exchange thoughts, feelings and challenges of the happenings and their overall situation with each other, some on a daily basis.

Haruka Sakaguchi (@hsakag), New York, USA

The power of social media to express and connect

But they do even more than that. And this is where the social media aspect of the project comes in. We created an instagram account that functions as an online gallery. The groups take turns in telling their very own stories. The photographers give insights into their perspectives and personal lives during the pandemic. Together they decide what they want to share exactly and how they want to tell their stories. They create concepts for their takeovers and fill the account with strong images, texts and videos. One group for instance shows views on empty streets from Egypt to Norway. Another one focuses on shadows and lights at home. Yet another one uses the pictures as a communicator. The visual on the photograph from Ecuador defines the next visual in Poland and so on. Then there are weekly themes, like “connection”, “time” or “dreams” where the photographers can hand in their visuals. We were able to engage editors from TIME Magazine, ZEIT Magazin and Diversify Photo to curate those themes.

Diversity in perspectives, similarity in emotions

The result is an account that gives intimate insights into the lives of women all around the world during this time. It shows the ambivalence of the space we live in, how home has become both comforting and confining. It shows the connections we have amongst each other and the lack of them. The pictures visualise what has become normal in so many parts of the world: the daily calls on our laptops, the masks we see our beloved in, the details of nature that we become more aware of during this time. It shows empty playgrounds in Afghanistan, religious rituals in Iran and the UK, a funeral in the USA, a birthday in Germany. And it explores the self: How daily routine has been reinvented, how we cope with the psychological challenges, how we see our own perspectives change. “the journal” is a collection of photographs from all around the world. It tells so many stories but it lets us also see the similarities between those stories. The visuals resemble each other — not in the way they are made but in terms of the symbols they capture.

And social media has provided that space. It is an outlet for expression for the photographers and at the same time a platform on which viewers can get an insights into different lives and connect via the similarity of moments and feelings that are exposed there from all around the world.

Isabella Lanave (@isalanave), Curitiba, Brazil

A project to grow with

For the photographers this project has been and still is quite a journey — a rewarding one, so some told us: “the journal was my inspiration to pick up my camera during quarantine. The first month was tough. I went inwards but wasn’t able to express myself. Then it hit me, I needed to. And having a group and an “assignment“ gave me the strength to pursue it”, says Deborah Elenter from Montevideo, Uruguay. And Amanda Green from Georgia, USA states: “The project unexpectedly created a community of friends & collaborators for me.”

Also for us as Friendzone.Studio this project and process has been rewarding. We were able to work through the first weeks of uncertainty, putting our energy and passion into something we believe in: the power of connection as well as the importance of giving space for diverse perspectives. And we realised once more that social media can be a great way to make these aspects happen.

Re-thinking narratives, creating new spaces online.