A new photographic book, ‘The Year Time Stopped’, brings together striking images from photographers across the globe that captured the impact of Covid-19 on all of our lives
A dive site known as the Breakwater in Monterey, California, is a great place to observe and photograph sea lions from above and below the water as they play and pirouette. With lockdowns in place across California, places like Monterey have been favourable destinations for state travel due to large outdoor spaces with plenty of wildlife. In the world of social media, it is common to see people taking off their masks for selfies at the end of the wharf, oftentimes forgetting them. Vistas and tourist destinations have been clogged with abandoned masks.
Breakwater is the outer wall that protects the harbour. The area is home to around 1,200 sea lions, which attract swarms of tourists, fishermen, and divers. I had heard reports that, the day before, the area was absolutely packed with jellyfish, and I was hoping they were still around. I quickly found out that the sea nettles were no longer there and also that conditions had turned really bad. It was literally one of the worst dives I had had in my life. It had rained the night before and the water had turned really green with tons of particulate, and it was really surgy. But with all the sea lions out, I figured I would give it a go. After having almost zero luck with the sea lions and using most of my air, I decided to call the dive.
As I was swimming in, I noticed a small group of sea lions diving down and playing with something white. It looked like a piece of trash, but sea lions are notoriously curious, and you see them playing with all sorts of things. It wasn’t until I was closer that I realised it was a mask.
Honestly, it was very quick and the conditions were so tough that I was mostly trying to make sure I didn’t completely miss the opportunity to document it. It’s one of those experiences that you’re fortunate to have — being presented with a moment that helps sum up a huge environmental issue — and you really want to capture it. Obviously, the pandemic has been extremely hard on people across the world and we are encouraging everyone to wear masks, but at that same time we have created another problem. Another environmental externality.
With an estimated 129 billion disposable face masks and 65 billion throwaway gloves being used each month through the pandemic, we are likely to be seeing the effects of Covid-19 on our oceans for the foreseeable future.
My mother, or Mamó, looks from her window in April 2020 during the first major lockdown in Ireland. The older generations were advised to “cocoon” and keep their distance from other people. I felt lucky to live close by so I could visit often.
Just a couple of weeks before this photo was taken, my father — who was already in the hospital — contracted Covid-19. She wouldn’t see him again in person until July, and he died the day after seeing her through the window of the nursing home.
I have been working with Shayan as a photojournalist in a photo agency for six years, and we have become close friends.
The wedding of Shayan and his wife, Fatemeh, was scheduled at the beginning of the pandemic and it was not possible for them to change the date. At that time, Iranian people were very afraid of this new situation, so they decided to invite only 20 of their relatives and close friends. It made me so happy that I was one of the 20 important people in Shayan’s life. I was not supposed to be the photographer of this ceremony, but a photojournalist always has a camera and is ready to take photos, even as a wedding guest.
In those days in which people around the world were battling with Covid-19 and death, this masked couple stood in front of me and started a new life. So I took the camera out of my bag and took the photo.
For me, this photo was the symbol of hope for the future, hope for happy days without Covid-19. However, in the following days and months, the country suffered heavy death rates, and as of the time of writing, more than 128,000 people have been killed because of this virus.
But hope is always there.
Now that we have access to the vaccine, again we can imagine life without this coronavirus.
Extracted from ‘The Year Time Stopped’, by Christina Hawatmeh and Nour Chamoun. © 2022, Scopio Technologies. Reprinted with permission by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, © 2022