Sheltering at home during the pandemic, teenage photographers around the world are combatting social isolation and joining forces online to share their work, their strength and their hopes for the future.
[Editor's Note: We first published this story in March 2020, as discrimination and abuse of Asian Americans, fueled by misinformation and hateful rhetoric, were on the rise. Sadly, while we may be making progress in the fight against COVID-19, we are not making progress on these attacks. In light of recent violence, including this week's shootings in Atlanta, we are sharing this powerful photography project once again.]
My name is Sophia. I live in Seattle, and I'm an avid 16-year-old social media user. Of course, I was ecstatic to hear that I would have no school or homework for over a month because of the coronavirus crisis. However, it wasn’t until about two days in when I started to feel the effects of not being able to see my friends. This is why the Covid-19 Photos For Teens project was created.
The fact that my first year of high school was likely going to be cut short left me with a feeling of frustration and confusion. As of now, my school has not started online schooling, and I found myself in need of a reason to continue my personal growth.
For teens missing friends, documenting our lives through photography fills a creative need
We see photographs every day. Billboards, posters and cereal boxes are just some examples that exist everywhere around us. As teenagers living in the 21st century, a lot of our input is received through social media. Immediately, I turned to photography to cope with my substantial amount of free time. My eagerness for a creative outlet only grew, and I just wanted to have photo shoots with my friends. Isolation forced me to challenge myself creatively; now instead of being the photographer, I also had to become the model.
You’ll notice how most of the photos are of one person. Since we are all quarantined, we had to step out of our comfort zones and step onto the other side of the camera.
You'll notice how most of the photos are of one person. Since we are all quarantined, we had to step out of our comfort zones and step onto the other side of the camera.
These past few days have felt different. It is a strange feeling knowing that billions of people are experiencing the same thing as you. I began to observe my similarities to people living on the other side of the world. Instantly, I was inspired by the surge of creativity coming from young people in a time of limits and restrictions. After all, we are living through textbook history times.
A photography contest for high school students posted their results online, and the comment section was buzzing. Teenage photographers from around the world were being incredibly supportive of one another, and I saw that many were like me. Lots of kids were searching for a way to express themselves through their photographs, and stay creative during these unique times. Using Instagram's messaging system, a small group of teen photographers was formed. All of us shared a thirst for new inspiration and the tenacity to continue documenting our lives with our photographs.
All of us shared a thirst for new inspiration and the tenacity to continue documenting our lives with our photographs.
Constantly adding more and more photographers to the group, we connected through our passions, despite never meeting in person. On March 16, Covid-19 Photos For Teens was launched. We are a group of 15 boys and girls from places such as Denmark, India, Canada and the United States. While adults are constantly warning us of the dangers of strangers on the Internet, I have found a community from all over the world that is helping me through a difficult time.
The purpose of Covid-19 Photos for Teens: Support and inspire one another
Covid-19 Photos For Teens is becoming known for our positive outlook on current situations. Our Instagram posts encourage kids to support, create and inspire one another.
Regardless of who you are or where you live, we want to give you the opportunity to become a part of something and be inspired. I'm glad to say that we have been truly grateful for the positive feedback that we have received in the past two weeks. Although we might not have school at the moment, we are constantly teaching each other. If there is one thing I've learned, it's that it's incredibly easy to connect to new people through what you love.
Being of Asian descent, it's no secret that racism would be existent during these unprecedented times. But the good news is that kids my age have been able to seek comfort through having discussions with people who understand them.
A voice for young people who feel challenged during the coronavirus outbreak
It's crucial to be able to talk about things like how the virus is affecting youth in terms of mental health and prejudice. It's also vital to offer a creative outlet for us to explain our point of view. My hopes are that the account can be used as a voice for young people who feel anxious and challenged.
Kids everywhere are making an effort to understand the world as we grow into it. They’ve made a space where people our age aren’t afraid to speak about issues that are usually left to adults. With cameras for eyes and photos for words, the rise for a rebirth among youth is brewing. I like to think of it as our version of a modern Renaissance.
UNICEF is fighting COVID-19 around the world with supplies, support and information. Your gift will help UNICEF be there for vulnerable kids around the world.
This story was originally published by Voices of Youth, an organization set up by UNICEF in 1995 to help children across the world form a global community for the exchange of knowledge and ideas.
Top photo: This self-portrait by 16-year-old Seattle photographer Sophia Chew is part of an ongoing online photo project created by young photographers around the world during the coronavirus outbreak, Covid-19 Photos For Teens. © Sophia Chew