Lived Through This

The New Normal

Photographing a year in quarantine

Rebecca Tien
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readMar 8, 2021

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My daughter drawing rainbows in the window in March 2021 to cheer up neighbors during the lockdown. Photos: Rebecca Tien

On February 11, 2021, for the first time in 335 days, my fifth grader walked back in for his last “first day” of elementary school. The night before his return I found myself looking back over the year in photos in my Instagram feed, peppered with tags such as #TheNewNormal, #TheCovidLife. After almost a year, I’m not clear if anything feels “normal” to me.

I’m a photographer and a writer in Columbus, Ohio, and a documentarian for my city, my home — sometimes with words, always with photographs. On Friday, March 13, 2020, the day the world seemed to come to a screeching halt, 13 people in Ohio tested positive for Covid-19. I was sent on a flurry of assignments to capture stories while I still could.

Half those stories never saw the light of day: the opening-day preparations at the ballpark that never opened, the sustainability initiatives of a local restaurant that has barely sustained itself, the toilet paper run at the grocery store and the book run at the library before they shut their doors to the public, and the final dress rehearsal for a high school musical whose cast members never had their opportunity to shine. By the following Monday, the number of positive cases had increased to 50.

March 8, 2020, three days before a state lockdown was announced, when kids could still huddle together in a puppy pile.
L: Last rehearsal of ‘The Little Mermaid’ at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus, Ohio, three hours before lockdown began. | R: Joe Santry, Huntington Park historian, looking in at the empty ballpark, which has not been open since the close of the 2019 season.

I remember telling my children when I picked them up that Friday in March, “In three weeks, when this is over, we’ll invite all our friends over for a big ice cream sundae party,” even though I knew things would probably stretch far longer than that. But we stayed optimistic. We planted a victory garden, drew rainbows on our windows to cheer passersby on the street, serenaded the elderly neighbor in a now infamous front-stoop concert, and like the butt-end of the worst pandemic joke, we learned how to bake sourdough. Three weeks turned into three more, which turned into 335 days.

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Rebecca Tien
Human Parts

I am a freelance photographer and writer drawn to stories of small everyday moments and broader stories about community and social justice