Close-up on COVID-19

Documenting unforgettable moments in the global fight against the pandemic

For Duan Wei and his colleagues at China Pictorial magazine, June 29 was a special day. On that day, a collection of photographs they took when they spent 64 days in Wuhan, central China, was displayed online as part of a global photography exhibition, Zooming in on COVID-19: Unforgettable Moments in the Global Fight Against the Pandemic, initiated by the Beijing-based China International Publishing Group (CIPG).

The exhibition selected over 200 photos by 100 photographers from 27 countries, including Italy, Russia and the U.S. The photos document heartwarming acts of mutual assistance, monumental courage on the frontline, and strength to overcome the pandemic.

Du Zhanyuan, president of CIPG, called the photographs both artistic and an important documentation at the online opening of the exhibition. “They capture the valuable moments beyond the limits of time and space, and reveal the brilliance of humanity demonstrated by individuals amid the crisis and the concerted action of all governments to protect people’s lives and scientifically prevent and control the disease,” Du said.

Frontline Images

From February 28, the group was based in Wuhan, where the COVID-19 was first reported in China, witnessing the city pass through winter and woe and then gradually return to normal life. They recorded many moments of the people’s fight against the epidemic.

Since cases of COVID-19 were reported in January, over 40,000 medical personnel were sent to Hubei, the province where Wuhan is located, to help with medical treatment. The Central Leading Group on Responding to the COVID-19 Outbreak launched a project to make people remember every medical worker deployed in Hubei though their faces were always hidden behind masks.

Duan and his colleagues were part of the team whose assignment was to document COVID-19 treatment in hospitals. As they put on their personal protective equipment to move around, they started to realize how difficult it was to work wearing such heavy gear.

A photo taken by Chen Jian, a member of the team, shows the suffocating image of a medical worker at the Huoshenshan Hospital, a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients, weighed down by his full protective gear and his goggles fogging up. Chen went to various hospitals in Wuhan six times and his work shows the conditions at the frontline of the battle against COVID-19.

The hospitals were not the best place for photography due to the same impersonal background and drab medical uniforms as well as the obscuring masks. Undeterred, they took photos of nearly 2,700 members from 27 medical teams. And they also reported about ordinary people’s life in the lockdown.

“On this mission, we wanted to focus on people,” Duan said, adding that they tried to present to the world what Wuhan and China were going through.

On April 8, with the restrictions easing, ferry services between Hankou and Wuchang, two districts in Wuhan on opposite sides of the Yangtze River, were restored. It was also the first day for the ferry driver to return to his post. Duan’s camera recorded him standing still, looking at the river and the scenery he used to see every day once.

A passenger who gave just her surname, Song, took the ferry that day. “It’s safer than other transport as it is in the open and there is good air circulation,” she said.

As Wuhan returned to normal life, the team was moved by the heroism of the people who had made enormous sacrifice for virus prevention and control. They took more than 100,000 pictures and shot 1,500 videos, where residents and medical staff talk about their thoughts and life in hard times.

A Universal Response

Besides Duan and his colleagues, photographers from all over the world were also covering the outbreak in their own countries. Divided into five sections, the exhibition shows striking images of joy, anger, sorrow and support.

The captions are in eight languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Italian, Korean, Russian and Spanish. The exhibition can be viewed on mobile devices, computers and social media for six months.

“I see people trying to keep going. Humankind has high resilience, facing difficulties with a positive attitude,” Zhang Wei said. A photo by Italian Max Intrisano is one of her favorites, showing a pedestrian passing the Lazzaro Spallanzani Hospital in Rome, designated to treat COVID-19 patients. She said besides the beautiful composition and colors, “It is a common challenge for each country and person.”

“When our homes became shelters, looking outside became a gaze into an uncertain future,” Intrisano said at the opening. “Finding appreciation for so many things we took for granted has been true happiness. Through a camera, I can feel the silence of the street and the absence of people—a sort of temporary suspension.”

“I was honored to capture the stories of different groups during the COVID-19 outbreak,” Mexican photographer Marco Peláez said. “This exhibition is part of our drive to deliver global anti-epidemic action with cameras.”

Liu Yu, a veteran photographer and former director of Photographic Art Center of China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, noted that photography offers another perspective to understand human history. No one expects disasters, but in moments of misfortune, courage and care for others always inspire photographers to record the best of humanity.

Huang Wen, a photography expert and deputy executive of China Image Group under Xinhua News Agency, noted that taking pictures is never easy in infected areas. Like the health care workers on the front lines, photographers must muster the courage to risk infection.

By July 2, the COVID-19 pandemic had claimed more than 500,000 lives. “Fighting the virus calls for joint efforts from governments of all countries as well as great support and wide participation of media outlets and cultural institutions,” Du said.

The CIPG’s proposal of an online photo exhibition was widely welcomed with foreign media, photography agencies and organizations participating. “This move itself shows people’s attitudes, choices and actions in the face of the pandemic as both witnesses and keepers of the memories of this special time.” Du said. “It depicts the mutual support, solidarity and cooperation of human society during the pandemic.”

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