VANCOUVER — A 17-year-old British Columbia student has been documenting the personal experiences of strangers around the world during this pandemic one photograph at a time.
Asalah Youssef of Langley Fine Arts School said the Screenshots of Home project came about from a yearning to create and connect with people who are united in isolation.
“I mean, the whole world was told to stay at home,” she said.
Youssef said she was seeing people connect virtually, which got her thinking about photography in a different way.
“I put down my regular camera, pushed my Canon camera to the side and picked up my phone to start photographing people virtually.”
Since April, she has photographed 45 people from different parts of the world including Lebanon, the United States, London, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Ecuador, France, Mexico and Israel.
The teen reaches out to people through Instagram, tells them about her project and asks if they want to participate, she said, adding that she met some people through friends.
“The beginning is just us having a conversation because, as you can imagine, I’m asking something quite personal of them — to have a FaceTime call and to document them and photograph them.”
She eventually leads them through lighting, posing, and where to position their phone, then takes a screen shot, Youssef explained.
“It’s a beautiful collaboration between me and someone who, most of the time, I have never met before.”
The clarity of the photos surprised her, she said with a laugh.
“Sometimes you can see the glitchiness of the photograph and, you know what, I kind of embrace that because I think… it’s telling of the way it was taken,” she said.
“But sometimes you can’t even tell it’s on FaceTime, which is also quite beautiful.”
These photographs, Youssef said, are helping her stay in the present, embrace and work with the situation, and look for joy and beauty in the every day.
“It is highlighting the more personal part of this pandemic and the experience of quarantining at home. A hundred years from now, people are going to look at these photographs and see all different experiences and get a really personal look into this pandemic.”
Youssef noted that one of the most memorable shoots was a woman in the state of New Jersey who is a fashion designer and has been getting through the pandemic and lockdown by creating pieces of clothing and masks.
“She said to me during the shoot ‘creativity cannot be quarantined’. She was such a bright and colourful person and it was really lovely leaving the conversation just feeling so filled, like my cup was full having this conversation with a fellow artist I had never met before who I connected with during this time.”
Another conversation Youssef said touched her was with a woman in France who lost her father during quarantine.
“She couldn’t hold his hand and she was saying how absolutely devastating that was and how much emotion that brought up for her. Her photo is her leaning up against a wall and you can feel that emotion through it.”
Youssef said her mother and she were recently having a conversation about “how cool it would be” to do a second instalment of Screenshots of Home, where she visits the same people in person once everyone gets through it.
“That would be quite special. You never know.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2020.
The Canadian Press