‘Postcards from Quarantine’ is an online photography project that pairs images and text messages sent by people in quarantine from across the world. The project was created by Eva Clifford, a London-based journalist and documentary photographer.

By Martina Krajňáková

Eva writes about cultural and social issues. Her publications include a piece on the female deminers in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Currently a writer at WhyNow, she’s published articles with Huck, the British Journal of Photography, LensCulture, and Feature Shoot.

Eva explains the inspiration and process behind the project.

What inspired you to start this project? 

“The idea came about at the start of the first lockdown last year. I started collecting screenshots of messages as a way to document the weird but pivotal time we were – and still are – living through. Anxiety levels were through the roof back then, but people who were lucky enough to get outside were finding solace on their daily walks. At some point I had the idea to put the images and texts I was receiving together. At first, I think the project was just my way of making sense of what was happening, but as I started sharing the postcards on Instagram, it became more of a collaborative process and I like to think that it’s helped others process their emotions too.”

Image: @ketevangvinepadze (Barcelona, Spain)

What was your initial aim of this, and how did that evolve after you shared the project with the world?

“Initially, I shared some of the postcards on my Instagram and they were really well received. It was actually a journalist friend of mine who suggested I invite others to participate. I thought it would be really interesting to see how other people were experiencing lockdowns around the world. So, after setting up a separate Instagram account, I put out a call for submissions. As I write about photography for work, I have a global network of photographers that I’m already in contact with, so this was obviously a great starting point. But although I began including professional photographers, I also used many submissions from people who aren’t professional photographers.

The project became more collaborative as it developed as I would often have a conversation with each person first, before choosing a final message. Sometimes they’d be immediately happy with the text I’d chosen; other times we’d go through several messages before deciding on a final one. Or I’d receive a submission that included a photo and a text message. I didn’t really have any strict guidelines apart from that the message and photo were taken during quarantine.

The aim of my project as it evolved was to connect people and I think the postcard was an appropriate symbol for this. Often a postcard would bring two strangers together who lived on different sides of the world.”

Image: @sonakochar (London, UK) / Message: @marineh_kocharyan (Yerevan, Armenia)

What are you guided by when you couple the pictures with the texts? 

“Sometimes it was something super obvious, like the word ‘window’ paired with a photo of a window, but the postcards people seem to like best are the more abstract or metaphoric ones.”

What does the process of pairing them feel like? 

“I feel like a matchmaker. It can be quite challenging at times because I’ll be searching for a perfect message to go with an image, but nothing seems to fit. I still have many images that are waiting for their match. My favourite moment is when I know exactly which text to pair with an image. It’s also amazing how a photograph’s meaning can change dramatically just by the words that accompany it. That’s why it’s been so important for me to have the photographer’s input too.”

What have you learned from people through this? 

“I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with social media and often go through phases of wanting to delete my Instagram. But this project has allowed me to really make the most of social media and use it in a positive way. I think I’ve also learnt that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, there are some emotions that will always remain universal to humans. While the pandemic itself is an obvious tragedy, there is also the side effect of isolation from the lack of physical contact and the impact of lockdown on our mental wellbeing. But ultimately, people want to connect and I think this project is testament to that.”

Has it been therapeutic? Did it make you feel less alone or more alone? 

“Definitely therapeutic. It’s also been reassuring knowing that many people were feeling similar emotions to what I was feeling.”

Image: @simonschwyzer (Zurich, Switzerland)

What were the things that struck you when receiving people’s submissions? 

“So many photos of trees and flowers. I think a lot of people have been using this time to reconnect with nature and turning to the constants in our lives as a source of comfort: the sky, the moon, the sea.”

Did you notice a change of pattern in people’s feelings or words over time? 

“In the beginning there was a lot of panic and uncertainty. If you scroll through the Postcards from Quarantine Instagram page, you’ll see waves of sadness, fear, longing, depression, loneliness, humour, despair, grief, anger and hope in the messages. There are also those emotions that we experience which are hard to put into words and I think that’s what’s so great about the images because they have a universal element to them; you can project your own meaning and emotions onto them. I think the most recent messages I’ve received have been more accepting that this is life for now, but obviously the other emotions are still very much felt.”

Image: @samreinders (Cape Town, South Africa)

What were the three most recurring themes in what people said? 

“How blurry time has become. Feeling in limbo. The world feeling like being in a movie.”

Did the pandemic make you look at photography and pictures differently? 

“I’ve definitely become more aware of the healing power of photography. It’s also been interesting to see how other people are viewing their immediate surroundings in a new perspective. We see the same four walls every day, yet people are still finding things to photograph and fresh ways of looking at things. So often photographers will travel to distant parts of the world to take pictures, but people are beginning to appreciate the beauty on their own doorsteps.” 

How are you currently feeling now that the third UK lockdown has been going on? 

“Each lockdown seems to have come with a different mood and atmosphere. I’ve since moved into a new room and I’m really fortunate to have my own space and live within walking distance of a nature reserve. Of course the pandemic won’t disappear overnight, and it remains unknown how this will affect us in the long term, but I do believe that we’ll be eventually able to emerge from this stronger, more resilient and more appreciative of the things and people we care about.”

Image: @_katesch (Berlin, Germany)

You can find the Postcards from Quarantine project on Instagram by clicking here. Submissions are still open via DMs. To follow Eva’s personal Instagram profile, go to @evamarcelle.

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