Food & Culture

Stories from Seattle: A Teen Photographer Finds Comfort Through Collaboration

A new Instagram space offers a refuge for young people navigating life in isolation

By Sophia Chew April 2, 2020


This is part of a series of personal essays we’re calling Stories from Seattle, contributed by our community and designed to show how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting the lives of Seattleites. Want to share your story, coping mechanisms, wildest ideas? We’d love to hear. Please email: [email protected].

When schools first announced they were closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, of course I was ecstatic to hear I would have no school or homework for over a month. However, it was only two days in when I started to feel the effects of not being able to see my friends. The fact that my first year at Mercer Island High School could be cut short made me feel conflicted, and I found myself in need of a reason to continue my personal growth.

We see photographs every day: on billboards, posters, cereal boxes, everywhere. I immediately turned to photography to cope with my substantial amount of free time. I wanted to coordinate photoshoots with my friends every day, but isolation forced me to challenge myself creatively. Now instead of being only the photographer, I also had to become my own model.

As a teenager living in the 21st century, I am an avid social media user. It is a strange feeling knowing that billions of people are experiencing the same thing as you. I began to observe similarities I share with people living on the other side of the world. At a time where I felt creatively blocked, 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.

When the results for a teen photography contest I had recently entered were published online, the comment section was flooded with others who also felt creatively blocked. Using Instagram’s messaging system, we formed a group of teenagers who shared similar ideas about collaboration. 

On March 16, @covid19_photos_for_teens, an Instagram group of “some teenagers surviving their coronacation through some photos” was created. We’re constantly adding more and more photographers to the group, where we connect through our passions, despite never meeting in person.

We are a group of 15 teens from places such as Denmark, India, Canada, and the US, helping each other cope through emotional support, and encouraging each other to become more vulnerable through our art. Together, we came up with photography challenges associated with current topics. Being of Asian descent, it’s no surprise to me that racism would escalate during these unprecedented times. But the good news is that kids my age can seek comfort through discussions with people who understand us. 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. I hope 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. Here, we’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, new creators are on the rise. I like to think of it as our version of a modern Renaissance.

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