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A Glimpse at 'Screenshots of Home' with Asalah Youssef

Quarantining and essential social-distancing practices have undeniably been one of the most bizarre and incredible turn of events in 2020. It has left many of us bored and unsure how to truly react or adjust to the challenges that our world is currently battling. As students, many of us have faced a sort of slump at the sudden cancellation of exciting plans and end-of-year events. Asalah Youseff—the 17-year-old activist and photographer behind the ‘Screenshots of Home’ initiative—is no exception. 

“During this extraordinary situation we are all facing, I felt artististically numb for the first few weeks of isolation. I barely picked up my camera and I had no enthusiasm to create and was more focused on just getting through and experiencing it,” Asalah admits.

However, a few weeks into quarantine, Asalah decided to use her passion for photography and her social media platform to do more. She created ‘Screenshots of Home’ to document this unprecedented time in history that has helped bring unity among people all over the world. Using her Instagram, she connected and captured Facetime portraits of people from Tanzania, Mexico, Malaysia, and even more!

As an activist and photographer, she is passionate and advocates for change and awareness within her communities. It’s incredible to see how much she has accomplished at a young age—speaking at We Day, being interviewed by the Globe and Mail, the National Post, etc—but most importantly, she has continued to use her voice in ways that uplift many of us during these times. Below is our Q&A with Asalah Youseff and the story behind her ‘Screenshots of Home’ project!

Screenshots of Home Q&A

Q: What is ‘Screenshots of Home’ truly about? What is the purpose behind your project?

Asalah: I am a portrait photographer and I love capturing stories. There are so many stories to be seen and heard during the pandemic and found myself itching to do just that. This led me to move past my conventional idea of photography and challenge myself to create in a way that adapts to this situation. Facetime was my answer. I created ‘Screenshots of Home’—a documentary portrait series photographed over Facetime—to document diverse people all over the world in their homes during quarantine. I am making connections all across the globe by hearing people’s stories, getting a personal look into their lives all while staying safe at home.

The purpose for this project was to find connection over a shared global experience, share people’s stories and use my art to document a historic time. This project has become a visual journal of everyday lives, of common humanity, shared but unique experience, of empathy, of vulnerability and of connection.

Q: What is an important message that you wanted to communicate to your audience with this project?

Asalah: I hope my viewers will see a gallery of common humanity, connect with a specific story, and possibly see themselves mirrored in it. Similar to what this project has shown me, people around the world are interconnected with each other. It has also demonstrated to me that genuine conversations are so important and we can have them so easily with people we don't know. It has been a beautiful experience connecting with so many people with unique stories and experiences.

Doing this project has also shown me that there are no boundaries to creating art. Though it is not the conventional way of photographing people, I am still able to use all aspects of photography and capture stories, which to me is most important. It’s crucial now more than ever to use our art forms to recognize and share peoples stories and to use this art to create connection and empathy in challenging times.

Q: Were there any challenges while working on this project?

Asalah: I've experienced major jet-lag without even getting on a plane! Since I photographed people all over the world and prioritized lighting and my subjects availability, I was having photoshoots throughout the night on many days. People's phones and laptops became my camera so inevitably there were technical challenges here and there, but that's what comes with the beauty of this project. The glitches in the photographs can symbolize the distance between us, but the connection we were able to create is still visible.

Q: What are some of your memorable encounters with people with this project?

Asalah: The most common thing that was special between all shoots was how comfortable both my subject and I felt while on the call. Most people I photographed were people I had never met before, but we found ourselves immediately having meaningful and genuine conversations about the beautiful and challenging experiences of quarantine.

Here’s a few people that I have shared pieces of beauty from quarantine with as well as challenges.

"My kids got the chance to see their mom working, which builds a full picture of who I am to them even if they are still too young to fully understand the reasons why I sit in front of the computer at times instead of playing with them in the garden."

- Ana from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

"Homeschooling two very inquisitive and energetic children has been the biggest challenge and I salute all teachers for their patience , resilience and ability to keep calm when being asked the same thing for the hundredth time."

- Stuart from Chelmsford, United Kingdom.

"COVID-19 has also affected me in negative ways: my wedding has been cancelled, social distancing has put a damper on my mood due to the lack of social interaction and sitting at home which I feel has put me in an isolation cell.”

- Prem from Toronto, Canada.

"I am getting to know my daughter so much better than before, and we have been doing a lot of creative projects together to occupy our time in isolation.⁣"

- Lisha from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

"The most difficult thing has been to self-isolate from family. I was in another country before coming to Mexico and because of that, I now have to stay away from them for 14 days.”⁣

- Maria from Mexico City, Mexico.

We are truly fortunate to be able to stay safe within our own homes and have the opportunity to openly connect with one another—if that’s across the world or even within our own households. Although our circumstances have not been the easiest, we should definitely enjoy the beauties behind this sudden pause in all our lives.

Article contributors: Katrina Artes, Sherilyn Wen

All photos are courtesy of Asalah Youssef