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The ‘Quaranteen’ Project: Dubai photographer unites international teenagers during the pandemic

DUBAI: The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has sparked new ideas for many entrepreneurs, creatives and artists. One such creative is Dubai-based photographer Tanya Rex.

The South African lenswoman launched The Quaranteen Project, which is ongoing to this date, when lockdowns began last year.   

She sent 30 disposable cameras to 30 teenagers across the world and asked them to document their quarantine experience. The results are unedited and moving realities of the pandemic as seen through the eyes of teenagers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Belarus, Afghanistan, Latvia, South Africa, India, the US, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and more. 

“I wanted it to be as raw as possible and capture the simplicity of what people see every day,” she said in an interview with Arab News.

This image was taken by a teenager in the United States. (Supplied)

“I didn’t really know what to expect. I remember speaking to my husband, and he said: ‘You don’t know these people. They aren’t photographers, and you really don’t know what you are going to get back. Maybe you could use pictures from five of the cameras that come back.’ And I accepted that,” Rex added.

She has so far received 24 rolls of film back, with around 300-400 images. 

Not all rolls of film came back as properly exposed pictures. “Some of them came back with very little effort put in, and some of them came back absolutely exceptional,” she said. 

“It didn’t really matter if I got one photo or 20. Each time, it was like receiving a gift,” Rex added. 

When enough cameras came back to the photographer, she sent the films to South Africa so they could be developed and scanned. 

This image was taken by a teenager in Latvia. (Supplied)

According to Rex, who came to the UAE 17 years ago, it was not easy to deliver the cameras to the teenagers. 

She lost some cameras due to theft, while others took time to be delivered due to the COVID-19 restrictions in some countries.

When discussing the inception of her idea, Rex said that lockdown was exciting for her when it first started.

“I remember seeing an initiative called ‘Together at Home,’ where celebrities invited you into their homes for their private concerts. I thought the idea was incredible. It meant the world was stepping up and we were all uniting,” she said.  

“After two weeks, though, the novelty wore off, and we all settled into the reality of what COVID-19 was,” she added.

This image was taken by a teenager for The ‘Quaranteen’ Project. (Supplied)

The photographer said she went from being enthusiastic at the prospect of having time off to realizing that all her work had been canceled and that there was nothing to look forward to for an indefinite amount of time. It was then that she had the idea to start The Quaranteen Project.

Rex is currently looking into turning her project into a coffee table book. “I think it would be a great way to show these teenagers’ stories in a simple format,” she said. 

Rex has worked for campaigns with international brands including fast-food company McDonald’s and makeup brands Maybelline, Bourjois and Max Factor, among others.   

Her latest campaign was with Adidas — a shoot for the German sportswear giant’s “Run for the Oceans” campaign. 

“It was a great project because, firstly, I got to shoot underwater again, which I haven’t done for a very long time,” she said. “It was also empowering because we were shooting women who have perceived disabilities and differences. They are all proud, strong women who are moving forward with their lives.” 


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