The Picture Show

Documenting Self-Isolation: 14 Days Through 14 Instant Photos


The sun rises and falls in my room. I feel more grounded to reality.
Kisha Ravi, NPR

The sun rises and falls in my room. I feel more grounded to reality.

I left the U.S. for home in a blur two months ago.

It stayed that way — gauzy and unfamiliar — for weeks.

In March, as the spread of the coronavirus threatened global travel, I booked a flight from Washington, D.C., my temporary home for the last two months, so that I could hunker down with my parents, my 15-year-old sister and my grandmother. I scrambled to shove four years of my college life into three bags and flew more than 8,000 miles. But when I finally greeted my family in the three-bedroom apartment I grew up in, there was little comfort.

The world was in crisis mode, and I wanted to be a part of my family, but I had to isolate for two weeks in my childhood bedroom, still painted purple and pink.

I could only leave my room to go to the bathroom and to shower. I was served meals on plates that piled on my dresser because no one else was allowed to touch them. I would sit on my bed and talk to my sister while she sat on a chair outside my room. I couldn't touch or hug anyone. These measures would keep us safe.

Yet my bedroom, which was supposed to be a safe space throughout self-isolation, brought back memories and triggers of some of the darkest times of my life. When I was around 16, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. As a teenager, I spent hours feeling intensely small and sad in that room. Left alone there now at 22, at times I felt like I had never left.

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So I took photos as a way of processing the overwhelming.

This series of 14 photographs explores the various emotions that 14 days of self-isolation brought.

Isolation will make you think about the things that the chaos of life tunes out. Who am I when I'm alone? What would I be doing if I'd stayed in Washington? When will life feel normal again?

I was nervous about falling back into old patterns and coming to a standstill. I've worked at managing my anxiety and when I have a bad day, I can usually brush it off. In my bedroom, I would still get anxious and feel low, but the little things showed me the progress I've made: I could get myself to tidy up; I'd catch myself humming and listening to music; I was making art — things I couldn't do in this room when I was 16.

Creating these photographs reminded me that although isolating here in this room with old ghosts, I'm resilient. It was a way to realize that even if the room is the same, I am different.

For the series, I chose instax as my medium as they're instant, raw and real. I wanted to capture a feeling, see it develop and hold it, touch it and play with it. To fill the gaps in the photographic medium, I used leftover paints I've accumulated from when I was in elementary school to intentionally further the emotion the image expresses. I used paint to create images on failed exposures. I ran out of film and didn't have access to more because of the lockdown. I had to get creative with what I had — a metaphor for the time we're in.

Kisha Ravi is NPR's Visuals Team intern.

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