International photographers share a portrait of someone important to them and reflect on what this year has taught them about the relationships that matter most.
When the sprint of work, family, and social life ended in a face-plant, we were all left to consider what—and who—we’d been neglecting. Throughout quarantine we’ve learned there are several things we can live without (haircuts, commutes, pants), and one thing we cannot: the people we love. As we plot a future that holds more purpose, we asked photographers around the world to share a portrait of someone important to them—and what they’ve learned about the relationships that matter most.
Subject: Teresa, Mother
Photographer: Vanessa Granda in Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.
“Since [my mom] lives in Miami and I live in New York, the distance hasn’t felt different. My mom and I are quite close—we talk over the phone almost every day. Someone told me once to water your relationships like you would flowers. I think this situation has really put that into perspective for me. Reaching out to those people who you care most about, if only to just say hi and check in. No matter how busy we end up being, we should find the time to nurture those connections.”
Subject: Rayana, Friend
Photographer: Svetlana Bulatova in St. Petersburg, Russia
“Rayana lives in the mountain village of Engenoy, Chechen Republic. The Chechen Republic was the first subject of the Russian Federation that closed the borders, so I couldn’t visit Rayana this spring. As for me, the most important words [are] Let’s protect each other. I believed in these words before the pandemic, but now I understand [their] true power completely.”
Subject: Jane, Sister
Photographer: Alice Mann in Cape Town, South Africa
“My sister and I have always been very different, and we often end up arguing when spending too much time together. Growing up, I think I always found it hard to accept how seldom we saw eye to eye on things and I always wished we got on better. I actually think I’ve learned more about myself in terms of our relationship, and how I can work to make a positive change going forward. My work is really inspired by people, and how complex they can be, so it was important to remember that I needed to embrace her complexities too. I think it is not always easy to do this with people very close to you and working to make portraits with her was an active way to engage with this and give her space to express herself.”
Subject: Daniel, Coworker
Photographer: Juan Brenner in Guatemala City, Guatemala
“Daniel is an extremely creative person and very young, so I feel like this time he’s had for himself has helped him focus on his art and all the ideas he wants to materialize. I sense he is developing more and more as an artist during this weird time. [After quarantine] I do feel we will be more appreciative of friendships and very much more conscious of all the little things we take for granted: having coffee, a quick talk, bumping into someone, holding hands—those are things we as humans have embedded in our social dynamics.”
Subject: Tommie, Girlfriend
Photographer: Li Hui in Hangzhou, China
“[My girlfriend and I have] been together for over eight years now. I’m usually more emotional than her, but during this specially granted time, she’s been touched by every little thing. She seems more sensitive and fragile now, even though she is usually strong-willed and determined. I feel like we switched personalities. Love involves accompanying and taking care of each other. What keeps a relationship going is being able to rely on your partner in times of need and when you feel down.”
Subject: Kathryn, Girlfriend
Photographer: Marley Hutchinson in Vancouver, B.C., Canada
“When life is a go, it can be all too easy to get carried away with personal goals and interests. Since the lockdown and all the free time we’ve had, it’s been a great reminder of how important it is to slow down, connect, and be kind and patient with each other. [My girlfriend and I have] learned to be more lighthearted if someone is having a bad day and not inadvertently join in. Not taking a bad mood personally gives us a chance to step back and laugh about how silly we can all be sometimes. (Which we found sometimes brings [the moody partner] out of it!)”
Subject: John, Friend and collaborator
Photographer: Kyle Weeks in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
“John and I had a serendipitous meeting in 2016 during my first visit to Accra, Ghana. He approached me in the street while I’d been making images and introduced himself as one of Ghana’s next up-and-coming dancehall musicians. I later discovered it was true. That year we proceeded to work together, making images of himself and his crew of friends. Now, four years later, our friendship and collaborations have blossomed and taken on new heights. Besides being my eyes and ears on the ground, my most valuable fixer, John [has also just joined me in launching] the Good News fundraiser, collecting donations to help communities being affected by COVID-19 in Ghana.”
Subject: Ivory, Niece
Photographer: Ollie Trenchard in London, U.K.
“My niece, Ivory, is a young filmmaker. We are very close and are more like siblings. She brings new ideas to me from a different generation. Unfortunately lockdown delayed the start of our working relationship making music videos together. The biggest lesson I’ve learned during the last few months is that it’s very important to speak about real issues with people close to you. I think too often we spend time talking about irrelevant things instead of really saying what we mean or asking the difficult questions. I feel like through exploring these conversations our relationships have a better chance to grow.”
Subject: Kate, Sister
Photographer: Anne Moffat in Melbourne, Australia
“Quarantine was when I most needed the support that a sibling bond brings. Like almost everyone in the world during this period, we’ve had to rely solely on text messages and FaceTime. It’s been frustrating and difficult and really not a substitute for in-person conversation. We didn’t see each other for two months, but we both were dealing with a similar rollercoaster influx of emotions. [I’ve learned that] people are just a phone call away. I used to favor text messages and emails, but I’d much rather pick up the phone and call now.”
Subject: Faye, Daughter
Photographer: Nils Ericson in Portland, OR., U.S.
“Faye had just turned one year old when quarantine started, so aside from me being home 24/7, not much is different. I do get to wake up with her every day and she’s never had a day when she’s looked at me oddly in a Who are you, strange bearded man? kind of way, like my son did when I’d be gone for an extended stretch of time for work. She’s very at ease with me and solicits my attention when she needs something—all things that would have happened but were accelerated because of my omnipresence.”
Subject: Ronja, Partner
Photographer: Aapo Huhta in Helsinki, Finland
“For us, the outside world has gotten smaller during these strange times. It happened not only because of quarantine, [but also because we’ve] become parents for the first time, which […] reminds us that the nature of life always seems to be both fragile and frenetic, and always changing. I hope this all will make us remember the importance of others. Especially in these political times—not to see each other as a threat, but something really valuable that we can’t survive without.”
Subject: Jocelyn, God-sister
Photographer: Kennedi Carter in Durham, N.C., U.S.
“During this time period I’ve come to realize how grown up my god-sister is. I’m usually on the move, working constantly, so being able to see her more often is really great. We enjoy the same TV shows. She’s very quiet and keeps to herself. She feels a lot like me. I’ve learned to be more attentive with my family members. When life gets intense they are really all you have; I need to appreciate them and cherish them when life is going great, too.”
Subject: Kamilah, Friend
Photographer: Melissa Alcena in Nassau, Bahamas
“It’s overwhelming how much is going on right now. COVID-19 has caused a lot of us to lose our sources of income and George Floyd’s death has sparked conversations that were long overdue. It’s painful, scary, exciting, and tiring… I’m in the Bahamas so there’s a part of me that feels disconnected. Almost every time I’ve felt alone in my thoughts about it all and not really sure what to do, Kamilah has called—we went to high school together and she now lives in the U.S. As Black Caribbean women and artists, we are bonded. Even though she’s overwhelmed too, she has held space for me—to listen to my frustrations about current events and to my concerns about the future; to remind me that it’s okay if I don’t feel like creating during this time.”