Around the world in 30 days

Eleonore Mouy in self-isolation in Singapore

This article is being written in the smaller bedroom of a 2BHK house in Mumbai. The space has been turned around to accommodate a makeshift workstation during the lockdown. The mattress has been taken off the bed and a small side table has been placed on it instead, in order to rest a laptop at the correct height. A plastic chair is doing the job of a traditional office one, and the room itself has amber walls with cupboards of a matching colour. Right now, there is also a half-eaten bag of chips lying beside the side table, waiting to be picked up again once a break is needed from the words.

The point of describing this scene is to give you a visual representation of what one person’s life looks like during this period of self-isolation. But there is only so much that words can do when it comes to accurate pictorial descriptions. It’s a photograph’s function to fill that gap. And Mumbai-based documentary family and wedding photographer Lavanya Ullas embarked on a project a month ago that aims to illustrate exactly what the lives of people in different countries look like when we are all in the same boat together, riding against the wave of a pandemic that has landed us in choppy waters.

The Lees go about their Sunday supper

She uses Facetime to click the images, and Ullas tells us that the idea struck her when she was using the app to talk to her friends in various places about how they are keeping themselves occupied. She says, “As a photographer, this period has been really hard because the one thing you need around you is people to shoot, and it’s been restrictive since I haven’t had that opportunity. There is only so much I can shoot of my dogs at home. So, the idea was born out of two places. One is the sheer frustration of a lack of things to click. And using Facetime as a tool is something I had read about, which came back to me later.”

The process she undertakes is to first get in touch with the people she has chosen as subjects. She then takes a virtual tour of their homes, familiarising herself with the surroundings. “I also have a chat with them about the sort of activities they are doing to cope with the isolation. It varies from someone saying that they have nothing to do apart from watching TV and reading books, to someone else saying that they have been locked in with their partner and that’s been great for their relationship. And once I pinpoint what their favourite activity is, I try and capture the right moment after focusing on the light, based on the time of the day,” Ullas adds.

Kaja Jasik and Pierre in France
Kaja Jasik and Pierre in France

The result is an ongoing project that offers vignettes of how people the world over are swimming in the same choppy waters we all find ourselves in.

One image, for instance, shows a lonesome man enjoying a solitary beer in his backyard under an elusive London sun. Another shows a woman playing the guitar next to potted cacti on a bright roof in a Mexican urban milieu. A third shows a Chinese family of four in Singapore enjoying a traditional Sunday meal, and a fourth shows a newly engaged couple spending a tender moment on their balcony, with the famed Parisian rooftops in the background. “I got a proper glimpse into people’s lives in terms of their activities and the space they are in. And through that, it went beyond a usual catch-up conversation between friends in different time zones. I understood how it’s such a varied experience in all these countries,” Ullas tells us, adding that she was talking to a friend in Canada who explained how she can go for a walk in beautiful natural surroundings and then wanted to know what it’s like for people in Mumbai, where matchbox apartments sometimes have side tables kept on beds so that work can carry on despite the odds being stacked up against us. Such is life.

Lavanya Ullas
Lavanya Ullas

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