Coronavirus Recovery: Photographers Share Their Experience During Isolation : The Picture Show When Pete Kiehart was forced into quarantine with COVID-19, he and girlfriend, Kasia Strek, did what came natural to them. The two photographers picked up their cameras and began making images.
NPR logo Isolation Diary: Photographers Document Their Experience With COVID-19

Isolation Diary: Photographers Document Their Experience With COVID-19

Kasia Strek/ITEM
Kasia: Pete had just got his test results: positive for COVID-19. At the clinic, he was given just one mask. He was so scared of infecting me and his parents, that he insisted on wearing it to talk, even though we were separated by a window.
Kasia Strek/ITEM

"Pete had just got his test results: positive for COVID-19. At the clinic, he was given just one mask. He was so scared of infecting me and his parents, that he insisted on wearing it to talk, even though we were separated by a window."

— Kasia Strek


After hearing the news of President Trump's ban on travel from Europe to the United States on March 11, photographer Pete Kiehart bought a ticket home to America. He and girlfriend Kasia Strek are typically based in Paris, but she was already stateside working on a documentary project. They decided to meet at his parents' home in North Carolina.

Kiehart was exhausted from the transatlantic flight and took his temperature on his way home from the airport. It was higher than normal, so he called a local clinic. Two days later, he tested positive for COVID-19.

"I was running this fever but I didn't feel particularly feverish," Kiehart said. "Were it not for this crazy time we're in, I probably wouldn't have taken off work."

Kiehart had mild symptoms of COVID-19 and did not experience the severe respiratory issues that can result in hospitalization. Still, that did little to quell the family's worst fears.

"Right after Pete got the test results, I learned that a friend of a friend had died the day before because of the coronavirus. He was Pete's age," Strek said. "It was very, very scary for me, especially knowing there was absolutely nothing we could do [for him]."

For the next three weeks, Kiehart self-isolated in his childhood bedroom, away from Strek and his parents, who are both older than 65.

To help fight the isolation, he started using his camera to document new daily activities — like taking his temperature and washing dishes in a bleach solution. Photographing was a way to keep himself entertained and part of his instinct as a journalist.

After seeing Kiehart's images, Strek began photographing too. She wanted to preserve the memory of this difficult time together. They would talk to each other through a window since it was the closest they could be physically together while still maintaining a safe barrier.

"I've been trying to express what I didn't know how to say, or I was scared to say, through the images," she said.


Kasia Strek/ITEM
Kasia: Pete was quarantined behind this door, for we did not know how long. He couldn't leave and I couldn't enter- we could only bring him food and drinks a few times a day, putting them on a tray just inside. When I arrived, before his test results had come back, we met briefly in this doorway. Because of this, I also had to self-isolate for two weeks.
Kasia Strek/ITEM

"Pete was quarantined behind this door, for we did not know how long. He couldn't leave and I couldn't enter — we could only bring him food and drinks a few times a day, putting them on a tray just inside. When I arrived, before his test results had come back, we met briefly in this doorway. Because of this, I also had to self-isolate for two weeks."

Kasia


Kasia Strek/ITEM
Kasia: Right after he got the test results, I learned that a friend of a friend had died the day before because of the coronavirus. He was Pete's age.
Kasia Strek/ITEM

"Right after Pete got the test results, I learned that a friend of a friend had died the day before because of the coronavirus. He was Pete's age."

Kasia


Pete Kiehart
Pete: In my room, desperate for sunlight, I tracked a patch as it moved across the edge of my bed.
Pete Kiehart

"In my room, desperate for sunlight, I tracked a patch as it moved across the edge of my bed."

Pete


Pete Kiehart
Pete: Every morning, I woke up, rolled over, and slid a thermometer into my mouth, like some Mad Men character lighting his first cigarette of the day. Thankfully, my fever and symptoms were mild.
Pete Kiehart

"Every morning, I woke up, rolled over, and slid a thermometer into my mouth, like some Mad Men character lighting his first cigarette of the day. Thankfully, my fever and symptoms were mild."

Pete


Pete Kiehart
Pete: I sat at this window and looked to the woods, where I ached to go. It was also where Kasia would come visit me. I thought that having my girlfriend closeby would make things easier - the time would pass faster and we could look forward to being reunited. In many ways, though, it was agonizing to be so close and not be able to have contact or talk privately.
Pete Kiehart

"I thought that having my girlfriend close by would make things easier — the time would pass faster and we could look forward to being reunited."

Pete


While Kiehart was sick, Strek was reading stories from around the world on how people were recovering and coping with the coronavirus. She said it had a healing effect for her.

"I had this tiny, naive idea that someone else could also relate to [our experience]," she said.

Kiehart tracked his fever every day and waited two weeks after his last symptoms to fully reunite with Strek and his parents, per the World Health Organization's guidance. They are both feeling better now that they are physically back together. Photographing their experiences helped Strek and Kiehart feel like their regular selves during this uncertain time.

"Things are getting a bit back to normal," Kiehart said.


Kasia Strek/ITEM
Kasia: The house where we are staying is surrounded by a forest. Every day I was looking forward to taking a walk. In the woods, between trees, fallen branches, autumn leaves, squirrels, birds, deer and silent shimmering of a stream, I was finding my refuge from the worries of sickness and quarantine, a moment of respiration in which I could be myself and forget that the world had changed.
Kasia Strek/ITEM

"The house where we are staying is surrounded by a forest. Every day I was looking forward to taking a walk. In the woods, between trees, fallen branches, autumn leaves, squirrels, birds, deer and silent shimmering of a stream. I was finding my refuge from the worries of sickness and quarantine, a moment of respiration in which I could be myself and forget that the world had changed."

Kasia


Kasia Strek/ITEM
Kasia: Every time I came to the window to talk, my heart was beating fast. It was so difficult, to see Pete's solitude, his fear and his pain and being unable to hug him, to comfort him with anything other than words, which were not coming easily.
Kasia Strek/ITEM

"Every time I came to the window to talk, my heart was beating fast. It was so difficult, to see Pete's solitude, his fear and his pain and being unable to hug him, to comfort him with anything other than words, which were not coming easily."

— Kasia


Pete Kiehart
Pete: Children from the neighborhood made me a card and sent me breadsticks. At right, a bucket filled with bleach solution served to disinfect my dishes after meals.
Pete Kiehart

"Children from the neighborhood made me a card and sent me breadsticks. At right, a bucket filled with bleach solution served to disinfect my dishes after meals."

— Pete


Pete Kiehart
Pete: Day 11: A chart provided by the Orange County Health Department for monitoring symptoms and temperature.
Pete Kiehart

"Day 11: A chart provided by the Orange County Health Department for monitoring symptoms and temperature."

— Pete


Pete Kiehart
Pete: Like most people, I tried to pass the time by watching movies and TV shows - some new shows, but more often finding comfort by reliving old favorites. Even given my familiarity with the content, I found myself reacting with a mix of shock and longing at instances of touch such as a simple handshake or, indeed, at more intimate moments
Pete Kiehart

"Like most people, I tried to pass the time by watching movies and TV shows - some new shows, but more often finding comfort by reliving old favorites. Even given my familiarity with the content, I found myself reacting with a mix of shock and longing at instances of touch such as a simple handshake or, indeed, at more intimate moments."

Pete


Pete Kiehart
Pete: Kasia sat on the floor at the end of the hallway during a rare visit to the edge of my quarantine area. At right, the table where my family would leave my meals.
Pete Kiehart

"Kasia sat on the floor at the end of the hallway during a rare visit to the edge of my quarantine area. At right, the table where my family would leave my meals."

Pete


Pete Kiehart
Pete: Kasia and I worked together to create this dual self-portrait — she aimed her camera at me while I used a smartphone app to trigger it.
Pete Kiehart

"Kasia and I worked together to create this dual self-portrait — she aimed her camera at me while I used a smartphone app to trigger it."

Pete


Kasia Strek/ITEM
Kasia: Roads surrounding the forest served as boundaries; I would walk every day to the end of the forest, turn around and come back, hoping that soon we would be walking together.
Kasia Strek/ITEM

"Roads surrounding the forest served as boundaries. I would walk every day to the end of the forest, turn around and come back, hoping that soon we would be walking together."

Kasia


Kasia Strek/ITEM
Kasia: As the world slowed down, some days I would take hours just observing animals, all very different from those that I could see in my homeland. One day a butterfly got trapped under a protective net among the azalea flowers. I watched it trying to find its way back to freedom.
Kasia Strek/ITEM

"As the world slowed down, some days I would take hours just observing animals, all very different from those that I could see in my homeland. One day a butterfly got trapped under a protective net among the azalea flowers. I watched it trying to find its way back to freedom."

Kasia

Kasia Strek/ITEM
Pete outside
Kasia Strek/ITEM

"About a week after Pete's symptoms disappeared we decided to slightly relax the quarantine terms. We still couldn't touch and had to keep distance, but we started going on walks together. It felt so soothing to see him outside, in the woods, taking photos and walking nearby."

Kasia


Kasia Strek and Pete Kiehart are documentary photographers and are usually based in Paris. Strek is part of ITEM, a French collective of photographers and documentary storytellers.

Correction April 22, 2020

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Pete Kiehart's parents as both being in their seventies. Only one of his parents is in their seventies.