BANGALORE, India — COVID-19 may have closed the door to the outside world, but for photographers worldwide, being indoors and the time for introspection offered a new form of creativity. Screenshots over video chat became the new normal. Pages like Girls of Isolation helped thousands of women embrace their vulnerabilities and fears through self-portraits.
In India, photographers took to the art form to document themselves in solitude. For some, self-portraits became a coping mechanism to process their emotions during the prolonged quarantine. Many photographers who were used to shooting others were forced to confront their camera shyness and find a new comfort zone as their own muses.
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New, evocative methods of self-expression emerged, with photographers exploring the ideas of self, home, and belonging by photographing their own bodies and environments. These are not mainstream photographers but independent voices from across the subcontinent, with photographers from remote parts in the northeast of India, to those in the North and South making these ephemeral images behind closed doors.
Hear what image-makers across India had to say about the creative process in their isolation:
“The process of ideating and building each self-portrait granted access to my place of inner calm during terribly uncertain times. This was my way of taking back power from losing work and losing freedom during lockdown. Considering my camera-shyness, it was a straightforward decision to focus on the back of the body, eliminating the face. This way, I could focus on the most basic elements of what I consider fashion and art are truly concerned with: color, form, and texture.”
“Photographers around the world, confronted with the pandemic, are feeling a collective anxiety and looking for ways to respond to the times. I see so many of us trying to assert our identity through self-portraits at a time when we are facing this existential threat. While acknowledging our helplessness, we are leaving a small mark of defiance.”
“I have been making self-portraits for a few years now because I want to own my story. In the last six months, I’ve photographed myself more often and used the medium as an outlet to express myself. These photographs are a reflection of what and how I felt, a reminder of time.”
“This was taken on May 8 when I was feeling angsty, waiting for the moon to show. Chasing sunsets and trailing the moon are how I got through months of isolation — their cyclical nature not only provided great comfort to my loneliness but also reiterated to me that this too shall pass.”
“This image was shot in March after I lost my grandfather. I was in Austria then, and I couldn’t meet my family when I returned because of the lockdown. I was going through a turmoil of emotions, and these images became a way to see myself in third person and get a different perspective, to know myself better.”
“Being stuck in Shillong — a new city for me — during the lockdown was tough. The situation was overwhelming, with all the uncertainties lying ahead. Amidst the struggle, I made this photograph, which was my hope of light in the darkness.”
“I bought a camera. There was no one to photograph. I turned it around and took a picture of myself. I finally understood what Leonard Cohen meant when he said, ‘That’s what sitting on your ass does to your face.’”
“Being isolated has given us all a moment of respite from all the distractions we normally have, and when we couldn’t go outside, a lot of us went inward. I found myself doing this daily, and painfully at times, but also found an ease that I didn’t normally have. I wanted to document this private moment of not knowing who I am, combined with the transient moment of discovering who I am. By shooting myself in silhouette, I could keep the moment private and deny the viewer things I wasn’t ready to share yet.”
“In the initial days of lockdown, I missed home. I was staying at my grandparents’ cousin’s home and felt alone. But they poured love selflessly to make sure that I felt like I was at my home. Whenever I felt overwhelmed by their kindness or some sadness, I took these self-portraits. They are about surroundings, gratitude, and living in the moment.”
“The monotony of the past few months has felt like a blur. During the six-month home lockdown, I always had my hibiscus plants to keep me company. This plant on my window flowered more than 150 flowers through this time, bringing me immense joy and lots of birds for company.”
“My grandmother (Dadi) passed away in April, and this photo was taken when we visited her birthplace. We were sorting through her saree collection, and I chose to keep the one in the picture for myself. I was wearing a T-shirt and sneakers at the time, and trying on the saree over them only seemed natural. I think my Dadi would have approved.”
“The sun was me. The air was me. The anxiety was me. And I was them.
All tangled up and coexisting like roots in dirt.”