The current Photogenie theme is titled "COVIsuals". Through visual stories, our curators research how people are dealing with and visualizing the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.
Humans are a social species, which is more evident now than ever before. Social isolation or loneliness increases alertness to threats and feelings of vulnerability while at the same time creating a desire to reconnect. Amidst Covid-19, the main anti-spreading measures have included local government orders for limitation of movement and broad implementation of face masks and social distancing policies: entire countries entered lockdowns, quarantines, and social isolation, which raises concerns about the impact the global outbreak of COVID-19 can also have on mental health. For people who already suffered from depression and anxiety, such measures are even tougher to go through. Myself included.
I am Rita - one of the genies - and during the summer of 2020, I had to self-isolate for a month after testing positive for Covid-19. During that time, it was compulsory to present a negative Covid-19 test upon arrival in the Portuguese island of S.Miguel, Azores. A week after arrival, one had to undergo another test to ensure that the first was not a false negative or carried out during the incubation phase. If positive, one would have to remain in self-isolation until two consecutive tests came back with a negative result.
When I landed in the Azores, I first tested negative for Covid-19. I had no symptoms, but as required, the moment arrived to take the second PCR test. What ensued was that what would be a brief sojourn back home escalated into a two-month stay on the island, spending one of the months in isolation. I could smell, taste, and breathe as normal. No coughing. No fever. Therefore, the positive result was a complete surprise - so much that I doubted my diagnosis.
Nevertheless, I initiated my self-isolation. The people I was last in close contact with - including my household - all took a test. Everyone received a negative result back. Even though I was glad I did not spread the virus to my loved ones, it was bittersweet to learn that I needed to isolate myself from them even if it appeared that I was seemingly not contagious. Every new week I took another test to verify if I was negative yet.
At each new positive test - and, consequently, each extra week of isolation - I seemed to plunge into a deeper hole from which I could no longer see the light. Unable to conceive an ending - or new beginning - I lost the ability to plan, imagine or yearn for anything. Since I was mostly asymptomatic, the frustration of isolating myself from everything and everyone when, physically, I felt essentially fine became my biggest prison. To have become as though radioactive, when I felt the same as always.
I was incapable of focusing on watching films, series, reading, or doing activities that felt passive. As an anxious person who typically wanted to be surrounded by friends and family and who required to remain busy, enduring a long time stuck at home turned into a challenge where negative and fearful thoughts surfaced, wondering if "Will I be here forever?". There was absolutely nothing I could do to cure myself. So I decided to photograph what was happening to me along with my search for a magic potion. It was hard to describe to others what I was experiencing: I was seemingly healthy with no symptoms yet felt lonely and desperate. I felt guilty for "complaining" as there were so many people who were physically suffering from this virus and others dying. I was safe at home, yet there was pain. An invisible pain that lives in many - even before Covid-19 - and that aggravates with inflicted loneliness. It is therefore vital to pay attention to mental health, not just now but especially now.
This photo series narrates my journey and my attempt to accept The Absurd. It equally serves (and served) as a means to better comprehend who I am in and out of isolation, in and out of the island. I adapted the series into a video with a soundscape produced by my friend and musician Miguel Garcia. Besides letting me process what happened and what I felt - nearly cathartic - this work helped me display an intangible pain.
The discharge rules in the Azores were re-adjusted as, according to ECDC, it became clearer that "the identification of SARS-CoV-2 RNA through RT-PCR (i.e. viral RNA shedding) does not equate to the presence of viable, infectious SARS-CoV-2 in a patient".
When I finally was declared negative for Covid-19, I chose to take a blood test to check for antibodies, since part of me was still in disbelief that I had the virus. It was confirmed that I had anti-bodies, therefore that I had been infected. Perhaps, and most likely, for the most part, my positive tests resulted from RNA shedding that was no longer infectious.
This experience taught me that this virus affects individuals both physically and psychologically - even while asymptomatic. Hopefully, my work will help to raise awareness of the importance of tackling issues such as loneliness and taking care not just of one's mental wellbeing but also of others: now and forever.
Check on your friends and family today.
About the artist: Rita Bolieiro (1996, S.Miguel, Açores) is currently based in Amsterdam, having concluded a Master's in Film & Photographic Studies from Leiden University. Her interest in writing and also in philosophy is reflected as a regular element in her visual work. From her connection with her island, The Sublime emerges as her biggest inspiration. Even so, she describes her work as instinctive and as an exercise of observation in which she investigates and questions what surrounds and attracts her.
Besides being a visual artist herself, she is one of Photogenie's co-founders and writers.
Take a look at the photographer's full series here.
Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness matters: a theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, 40(2), 218–227. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-010-9210-8
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Written by Rita Bolieiro