Covering the pandemic in the city of love — Chloe Sharrock shares her experience unveiling Covid-19 in her photo-reportage

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Chloe Sharrock is a documentary photographer based in Paris, France. She is also the founder of an association Alhawiat — dedicated to share stories of women in the conflict-ridden countries of the Middle East.

Her work, published in several international publications, is largely focused on women’s rights but has also explored religion. While Chloe usually works in the Middle East. She is currently confined in Paris following the coronavirus outbreak. She is also part of a project with other photographers that highlights life in the midst of Covid-19.

Chloe shares how she is looking at Covid-19 as a journalist and her experience of covering the pandemic on the ground in Paris.

“The first week was kind of a blur, not really knowing what could be done to continue working while respecting all the safety measures, without endangering anyone, myself included,” she said talking about working as a photojournalist in her otherwise “work-free zone”.

“But step by step, new narratives emerged. I’ve developed more conceptual projects indoors, I’ve joined a collaborative project with other photojournalists of my neighborhood… I guess it’s all about finding new ways to inform, knowing that it will constantly evolve along the way,” she added.

About the state of coronavirus cases in France, Chloe informed us how the situation is deteriorating extremely fast as France is entering its peak stage of the pandemic with several deaths in a short period of time.

“At the moment, social networks and media are completely drowned in an absolute logorrhea of information, and untangling fake news from reliable facts can be quite a challenge. I’ve selected a few trustworthy sources that I consult on a daily basis, an hour every day,” she said when asked about keeping up with the unimaginable flow of information.

Chloe has managed to ensure her safety when she is out photographing her subjects in the midst of the outbreak. However, she said it is almost impossible to find protective gear in France.

“Luckily, I had a few masks left from a previous project about health in India, but it’s becoming almost impossible to get a hold of such gear in France at the moment. All the usual safety measures are however easy to adopt — social distancing, of course, but also plastic gloves, disinfectant wipes for my camera, etc,” she said.

“It’s also all about keeping others safe, and not just ourselves. We have some kind of “privilege”, being able to continue working and moving freely, but it’s our responsibility to do so without putting anyone else in danger, and without countering the effect of the confinement. It’s also about finding new ways to testify of what is happening, new storytelling techniques and forms of narrative to avoid ending up in unsafe situations. By the end of the confinement, I think we’ll see how much technology can become a tool for journalism,” she added when responding to CFWIJ.

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She informed us that despite having all the necessary documents on them, some journalists have been fined or prevented from working. She said the testimonies keep emerging. However, she said one cannot say if the restrictive actions are coming from the patrols or from orders above with some kind of restrictive policy aimed specifically towards journalists.

In terms of facing on-the-ground challenges, Chloe stated that since people are in a state of fear following the outbreak, it is difficult to approach them and gain their trust.

“People are scared, and it can be felt in human interactions. We actually discussed it with other photojournalists, and there seems to be a surge of aggressiveness coming from people on the streets. The whole country is bathed in some kind of paranoiac mindset,” she said.

“Another challenge, as a photographer, is to have your work standing out from the rest. We are hundreds of photojournalists stuck in a city under lockdown, being creative and original, finding new ways to photograph and to inform, is definitely the biggest challenge,” she further added.

Chloe lives by herself in Paris, and to make sure the outbreak does not affect her mental health she tries to stay in touch with her family and friends, among other strategies to help cope with the current situation that almost everyone has been facing at the moment.

“I’m spending most of my evenings chatting on Skype or Zoom with friends or colleagues. I also try to limit myself to only one or two hours/max of news per day, to avoid being caught up in some kind of spirale of worrying information. I also focus on projects that aren’t related to the current situation, to allow myself time during which my brain is focused on something more positive, something that allows me to stay optimistic,” Chloe said.

As for tips for journalists who are reporting the outbreak, Chloe advises them to not push themself. “It’s fine if you don’t get the most exclusive pictures, as long as you keep yourself and others safe. Think outside the box, and allow yourself time to sit back and take a break.”

This interview was originally written for Women In Journalism Magazine by The Coalition For Women In Journalism

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