Quarantine Through the Lens: Rebecca Rütten

How Berlin photographers have creatively responded to the corona crisis

Words By Mario Heller
Photos By Rebecca Rütten

Photographers feed off their surroundings, whether that is forging connections with new people to shoot, or gaining inspiration from the city or nature. The corona crisis has cut off these sources of inspiration and challenged photographers to channel their creativity in new ways. Some of the responses have been incredible, and Rebecca Rütter’s Quarantainment series is a wonderful example. Here she talks us through the process that guided her.

When I first heard about the virus outbreak in Wuhan through the media, I did not think about it that much. I suspected that it would be similar to Ebola or SARS and would not have a major impact on our life in Germany. Watching the approach of the virus then was pretty blatant. In the beginning, I tried to suppress all the negative feelings.

I put an enormous amount of energy into the realization of my projects for this year and have already received several commitments. With COVID-19 came the cut and the cancellation of all my plans and an essential fear crept in. I soon realized that my sadness for all the lost things will not change anything. With the result that I tried to find new ways to make the best of the situation and not to stand still. For creative projects, my roommates now serve as assistants and models. They are currently the focus of my social interactions. I am super thankful to live in a shared flat, but I can’t wait for the moment when I can hug my friends again.

Inspired by self-isolation and social distancing, creativity became my weapon against powerlessness. In a time of the instructed “doing nothing”, I reacted with double the productivity and dealt with the question: How do you photograph a period of social isolation? As a creative experiment, I passed a lot of my control over to the internet. For two weeks I followed the tasks of the “Home Alone Survival Guide” Challenge by the German-Namibian artist Max Siedentopf. A challenge about making art out of everyday life at home. My Instagram followers invented the title for the project, they dictated new corona-relevant motives for still lifes and interpreted the pictures: a toasted house of cards becomes a Brandenburg Gate interpretation – only more fragile, as unstable as our capitalist system in the current crisis.

Installations that flaunt the excessive possession of toilet paper trigger feelings of security and jealousy among viewers. An image of wet hands that were previously perceived as sexual develops a new meaning in the lockdown: the reminder to wash your hands. My work renames collective fetishes for everything out of stock in the supermarket. “Quarantainment” sees itself as an archive-like work that combines different photographic approaches. My work does not reinvent anything, I take the same photos everyone currently takes the shared experience in isolation. I combine various facets of our surreal reality. From abandoned tourist hotspots in Berlin, to still lifes of toilet paper and hand disinfectants, to taking part in virtual challenges. The combination of the different approaches paints a complex picture of our restricted everyday life. What we need now is a humour and a sense of belonging that goes beyond our current situation and leaves no one behind. Right on our doorstep, not only globally. Shared projects are the start for me.

Check more of Rebecca’s work on her website or Instagram profile.