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'Inside the Curve' attempts to offer an overview of COVID's full impact everywhere

Jakub Rybicki
National Geographic
Contaminated COVID-19 waste is transported to an incineration plant in Gdańsk, Poland.

In her foreword to Inside the Curve: Stories From the Pandemic, Jill Tiefenthaler, National Geographic Society's chief executive officer, writes: "The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world."

That short first sentence contains a world, as does the book — both literally and figuratively. Visually striking (NatGeo and superb photography have always walked hand-in-hand) and incredibly complete, deep and nuanced, this is a book that attempts the impossible task of offering a full overview of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic everywhere. It comes so close to pulling it off that it can't be called anything but a resounding success.

As the pandemic evolved and began to change the way we lived our lives, the National Geographic Society launched the Global Emergency Fund for Journalists in March of 2020 to "support individuals who wanted to report on the impacts of the virus in their communities." After receiving thousands of applications, 324 projects were selected and fully funded. The focus was on reporting about the pandemic in underserved communities, but the end result is far richer than anything that focus might suggest.

From burials in Bangladesh to urban farming aimed at fighting hunger in Johannesburg, and from Indigenous communities in Peru treating Covid patients with traditional medicine to an LGBTQ-led group fighting food insecurity in New York, Inside the Curve takes readers on a visual tour around the world and shows them just how much the pandemic affected us in a variety of ways. It also shows just how people adapted and survived their new reality.

Inside the Curve is packed with information and contains touching essays written by some of the photographers who received funding, but it's the images that make this a truly outstanding chronicle of the pandemic. Using everything from photojournalism to self-portraits, photographers in places as diverse as Chile, Norway, Brazil, England, Kenya, Italy, Venezuela, the United States, Australia, Russia, Mexico, Thailand, Egypt, Ukraine, Singapore, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, to name a few, captured the essence of what they were living and seeing through their lenses with a combination of authenticity and immediacy that infuses every image in this book with undeniable power.

Anna E. Sotelo / National Geographic
National Geographic
Las Truchas, an open-water women's swimming group formed in Peru during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, is seen the the Pacific wearing colors of the rainbow to symbolize peace and love.

There are photos and stories about hospitals, nurses, doctors, treatments, burials and patients here, which is inevitable because those individuals and places were at the forefront of the war against the virus. But the best thing about this book is the way many of the images and stories come from unexpected angles and tackle narratives that were left out of mainstream media coverage. From the way the pandemic affected migrants on the move in many countries — including slowing down everything for asylum seekers — and its impact on assisted-living facilities to its impact on education across the world and how sex workers were hit harder than other communities, the richness and scope of the storytelling in Inside the Curve is outstanding.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that's because visual storytelling manages to convey ineffable things that words simply can't describe. Inside the Curve is packed with images that prove the old adage right time and time again. People alone at home, trapped in their own little world because of Covid restrictions and lockdowns. The same tired faces and haunted eyes of overworked medical staff in different countries. The raised hands, dancing bodies, and smiling faces of resilient communities refusing to let desperation get the best of them. Families stuck together for better or worse (there was a lot of love, sure, but also women trapped with their abusers for long periods of time). Breastfeeding mothers contemplating the future. Busy bodies working in protective gear because life simply couldn't stop and people had to eat. And masks. A lot of masks. It seems like, if it happened during the last two years, it's in the pages of this book, and that is a testament to the vision of the many people who came together to make Inside the Curve as rich as it is.

David Diaz Arcos / Fluxus Foto/National Geographic
Fluxus Foto/National Geographic
With the onset of the COVID-19 virus, 4-year-old Manuela Aguilar's education and school social life in Quito, Ecuador, changed dramatically. Here she plays with a flashlight, inside her camping tent, telling horror stories.

Tourism, religion, education, ancient traditions, traveling, food and water supplies, politics, funeral practices; the COVID-19 pandemic affected everything around us, and most of it was negative. However, the last portion of Inside the Curve is the opposite of that. The pandemic taught us a lot about love, camaraderie, mutual support, and resilience. We now have not only awful memories but also stories of local heroes and people who, in the face of a new problem, came up with innovative solutions.

The virus is still around and people are still dying, but cultural objects like this book serve as a collection of memories and an invitation to move forward, to keep going, to remember just how strong we can be.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.