covid-19 Art

Photographer Sephi Bergerson is using FaceTime to capture frames of lockdowns around the world

Benny Dayal and Catherine Philipe Dayal in Mumbai, India. April 2020

Benny Dayal and Catherine Philipe Dayal in Mumbai, India. April 2020   | Photo Credit: Sephi Bergerson

Be it a couple in a hotel room in Melbourne or Benny Dayal lounging on a couch in Mumbai, the Israeli photographer is documenting human history through an online lens

“I have been awake practically 24/7 since this project kicked off,” says Sephi Bergerson over the phone. The Israeli photographer, from a Portuguese villa in Goa, has been one of the photographers taking remote photography to a new level due to the COVID-19 lockdowns around the world — by using FaceTime — in a project titled ‘Portraits Of The World In Lockdown’ or ‘Documenting The World In Lockdown.’

The Goa-based photographer comments that the project was initially the result of growing boredom from the lockdown, adding, “I just started shooting some friends and the more I shot, the more I got into it. So we ended up putting up a webpage and tried to reach more people around the world. Then I realised that this actually has the potential to be a really important historic document... We are all in this together; everyone is in the same situation. I’m speaking with people now in Tehran, Kuwait, the U.S., Israel, Germany... everyone has a story!”

“53 days quarantining alone. Life can be mundane and repetitive, but I find that routine helps keep the brain active and the hope alive, even if it’s something as little as tending to my mint plant while looking out at the street every day.” Adam Awad, Cairo, Egypt. April 30th, 2020

“53 days quarantining alone. Life can be mundane and repetitive, but I find that routine helps keep the brain active and the hope alive, even if it’s something as little as tending to my mint plant while looking out at the street every day.” Adam Awad, Cairo, Egypt. April 30th, 2020   | Photo Credit: Sephi Bergerson

Sephi, who has published books such as India’s Story Of Triumph Over Polio and Street Food Of India, explains, “We are experiencing a tectonic shift in the history of photography as well, not just of the Earth. We have moved to remote photography and we’ve never considered anything like that. In normal times, to collect a portfolio like this would take a lifetime and high costs; but now I’m shooting all over the world from Goa with zero emission! If someone had told me three months ago, I would be doing something like this, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine it.”

Getting the right frame

The process of capturing the right image requires extensive collaboration between Sephi and the subject. “The subject needs to be a lot more involved than they would be in a regular shoot,” he explains. After sending him pictures of their home, Sephi demarcates places of interest asking the subject to position themselves in different spots, facing certain directions, depending on the timings of sunlight and the surroundings. After finalising the time and the place of the shoot in the subject’s home, a FaceTime call kicks off 15 minutes in advance to catch the moment perfectly.

Jared and Emmaline Chan in the hotel room in Melbourne Australia. This is their last day in Australia and they are going into quarantine for 14 days in Kuala Lumpur, separately. April 26, 2020.

Jared and Emmaline Chan in the hotel room in Melbourne Australia. This is their last day in Australia and they are going into quarantine for 14 days in Kuala Lumpur, separately. April 26, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Sephi Bergerson

Sepho laughingly adds communicating camera angles — tilting, the height, framing, etcetera — has been a very arduous process and has made him a nicer guy. “I have to be grateful to the people that collaborate and I feel that my excitement catches on. So it’s usually a very fun experience!”

Why FaceTime?
  • Sephi has tested various video-calling apps to find the right one for ‘Portraits Of The World In Lockdown.’ FaceTime suited best because when one takes a screenshot during the call, the resulting image only has the subject, not the person capturing the image. WhatsApp, Google Duo and other platforms do not have this feature.

Predictably, the images are low-fi, but Sephi points out that the low quality of the images (it is a screenshot, after all) bring a charm to them. These frames are jazzed up with some minimal grain here and there. “I have played around with FaceTime photography before,” he points out, “and I consider the screenshot to be a product of photography, but I never really made the effort to find light, to direct, to construct compositions, to compile content or build a concept. This was was forced upon me because I had nothing else to do!”

Speaking on the meta-quality, he describes, “It’s a compromise, because this is the only tool we have and this is the quality of what we can get. In the last few years, we’ve experienced the democratisation of photography; everyone has a camera, a good camera on their phones and a lot of pictures are being taken. Now, the phone is not only the camera, but it is also the facilitator of the shoot; the phone is available with all these people around the world which makes the project possible.”

As for the screenshot itself, it is rather a Live Photo, a second and a half capture of what is happening, and the quality will be low. So it is what it is. With the way the world is going, commercial photography is going to take a new turn and remote photography is going to become more prominent, and technology will enable a higher quality file to come from this. Right now, the screenshot is a digital polaroid of the 21st century.”

Angie Ramani- Rohart & Ludovic Rohart on Diani beach, Kenya.

Angie Ramani- Rohart & Ludovic Rohart on Diani beach, Kenya.   | Photo Credit: Sephi Bergerson

So far, some of the most eye-catching frames in the collection include a young woman and her cat in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, USA; musician Benny Dayal at his home in Mumbai, India; Sephi’s elder daughter Liah Shadra in Rishon LeZion, Israel; a young woman in Hyderabad, India, a couple on a beach in Kenya; and a couple in a hotel room in Melbourne, Australia. Sephi is eager to work with more people from different places around the world to make sure this project a historic documentation for generations to come. “No one is going to forget this time,” he concludes.

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 9:05:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/sephi-bergerson-facetime-videochat-photography-project-of-people-in-lockdown-around-the-world-due-to-coronavirus-pandemic/article31508225.ece

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