A story about family, love and photography - written by Argentinian photographer Rafa Lanus on April 1st, 2020
“That March 7, when my wife Mariella, an Italian national, travelled to Milan to see her father, who had been fighting leukaemia for more than a year, seemed like just any other day. But no. It turned out to be the first day in what ended up being one of the most difficult times of our lives. While our six year-old daughter, Sophie, and I stayed here in Barcelona where we currently reside, Mariella landed in Milan, where her family informed her that her father, Pasquale, had been hospitalized due to a high fever. This is something quite normal for his condition, but sadly, it turned out to be the coronavirus. After two very uncertain days, he passed away. Unfortunately, because of his condition and the whole COVID-19 crisis, Mariella and her family were unable to be with him during his last moments; and due to the restrictions in the northern part of Italy – which started also a few hours after she landed –, the family hasn't yet had the chance to pay their respects and give him a proper farewell with a formal funeral. At this point, who knows when that can happen?
In the meantime, Sophie and I couldn't go and be with them, which in a normal situation would have been the right thing to do – but it was too risky. With the exception of my wife who hadn’t been in direct contact with her father, they had all been exposed to the coronavirus to some extent. At this point, we were not only unable to grieve all together as a family, we also didn't know how and when mamma was going to come back home. Even though being here might seem like the easiest part in this whole nightmare, for me it has become the most challenging time of my life.
I needed to support my daughter who, by the way, is extremely attached to her mamma, and who, like any other kid, is just looking for simple concrete answers. In the following days, Italy shut down the whole country, and flights between Italy and Spain were cancelled until further notice. Then, adding insult to injury, Mariella's mother, Pina, who was already going through the painful grieving process after losing her long-time partner and husband of 50 years, started to show symptoms of what might be COVID-19. However, sending her to hospital, the only place where she could be tested, was like a death sentence; rather like what had happened so sadly to her husband. Now there were more questions than ever: when is Mariella coming back; is her mother going to be okay; will Mariella be okay? ..."
Sophie at home in Barcelona, while being in mandatory lockdown, talks to her mother and grandmother. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, her mother had been stranded in Milan Italy for three weeks.
L1002049, Sophie doing her homework at home in Barcelona while the whole country is in mandatory lockdown due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Sophie at home in Barcelona while being in mandatory lockdown, talks to her mother about make up and girl stuff. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, her mother is been stranded in Milan Italy for three weeks.
"On the other side of the Mediterranean, Spain shut down. Sophie is out of school, so the things we had to keep life“normal” for her, like going to school or seeing friends, was out of the picture. We are a multi-cultural family, with me being born in Argentina, lived in Los Angeles (where Sophie was born) for over 20 years, and now we are based in Barcelona. So we don’t really have that family support we would have had in LA, Buenos Aires, Naples or Milano. I must be strong for Sophie, for Mariella, for myself! I needed to support myself, and what better thing than my camera to keep me sane and on track? That’s what I’ve done!
I've treated this as the most challenging assignment of my life, not for a client, but for us, the family; a personal project to collect all these strange, yet amazing moments.
To my surprise, Sophie and I have built the strongest bond I've possibly could ever have imagined. I’ve got to known her so well, her amazing way of being, her strength, maturity - everything!"
Sophie came with me to go grocery shopping once, as the whole country is in mandatory lockdown due to the Coronavirus crisis.
Sophie goes to the roof of the building of our apartment in Barcelona to enjoy a bit of the sun and play while the whole country is in mandatory lockdown. She managed to make a friend who was also using a walkie-talkie.
Sophie checks the days on her countdown boards she drew on window in her house in Barcelona while being in mandatory lockdown, her mother is been stranded in Milan Italy due to the Covid-19 crisis for three weeks.
"Constantly shooting both, photos and video, has helped so much. We have fun, immortalize moments and then look at them at the end of every day. It has helped getting time to pass by. She even grabs her Polaroid and snaps some shots for her own album.
Family-wise, the situation is starting to get a bit closer to normality. Mariella’s mom got better, so Mariella was able to hop on a ship from Genova to Barcelona, and arrived Sunday March 29th, after 22 days apart from each other. But we are not together yet. Since Mariella was exposed to Covid-19, she is responsibly going into two-week quarantine in a flat lent to us by some good friends. So we have 14 more days to go. Actually, 11 now! Or - as Sophie would do - checked √."
Sophie doing some art and crafts at home in Barcelona, as the whole country is in mandatory lockdown due to the Coronavirus crisis.
The whole family watches a movie together, but in the distance, Sophie and Rafa are at home in Barcelona for the mandatory lockdown while Mariella's in Milan, where she's been stranded for the past three weeks due to the Covid-19 crisis.
The most expected moment, Sophie and her mom Mariella wearing protection, as they get to see each other for the first time in 23 days. Mariella had been stranded in Milan. Since she could’ve been exposed to Covid-19, she'll be going into quarantine for 2 weeks in a different flat near our home in Barcelona, Spain.
"Meanwhile we continue documenting, keeping the faith, building an even stronger bond, and giving Sophie what I’d like to call a 'Life is Beautiful' world. Kind of like Guido (Roberto Benigni) did for his son Giosuè in the wonderful Italian film 'La Vita e Bella' [Life is beautiful]. Sophie just doesn’t need all the uncertainties this whole situation brought to all of us. She just needs to be a kid, to know she’s our beloved daughter, and - even with the distance - she’s got the most amazing mamma ever, plus a whole family that loves her unconditionally."
Sophie takes a bath in Barcelona, while the whole country is in mandatory lockdown.Sophie takes a bath in Barcelona, while the whole country is in mandatory lockdown.
[Story Update, April 12th]
"After the 14th day of quarantine in Barcelona outside of the house, Mariella's back home. Their first hug in the entrance of our building was one of the nicest things I've ever witnessed in my entire life."
The big day has arrived, after 5 weeks and 1 day, they get to hug each other.
Text and all images © Rafa Lanus
See more of Rafa's work on his website.