Skip to main content

With no one but herself to photograph, Laura Pedersen started taking self-portraits of the emotions she was trying to process

September 29, 2020. I have immense gratitude for the things I have learned during this pandemic so far. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be afraid, and it’s okay to cry.

Photography by Laura Pedersen

When COVID-19 brought life to a halt last year, I had no idea what to do. I’m a freelance photographer based in Toronto, and my main source of income was photographing other people at large events. The work I had lined up for the year was put on pause indefinitely as we were told “other people” were the danger.

Taking care of loved ones became the priority. Like so many others though, I live far from my family. My parents are in Calgary, where I was born and raised. I desperately wanted to jump on a plane and ride out this scary and confusing time with them. Even that was taken off the table. My world had reduced to my 600-square-foot apartment. I felt trapped.

Left with no one but myself to photograph, I started taking self-portraits of the emotions I was trying to process.

During the early days, I felt as if I was drowning, without any understanding of when I could come back up for air. So on the second Friday night of the first lockdown, I attached my camera to a tripod hung precariously over my bathtub and submerged my head underwater, capturing a moment when I was literally gasping for breath.

March 27, 2020. My first isolation self-portrait, two weeks since the government closed everything and we were told to stay home and self-isolate. I feel like I am drowning.

As restrictions began to ease in the summer of 2020, it finally felt as if the world was breaking through to the other side of the pandemic. So during an early August sunrise, I climbed into a frigid Lake Ontario, covered only in a piece of fabric. The light streaming into the resulting self-portrait filled me with hope that we were making our way through the darkness.

August 20, 2020. Case counts are down, children are preparing to return to school and I’ve heard rumours that some of my work might start up again this fall. Could we be reaching the other side of this pandemic?

Last February, as the one-year anniversary of COVID-19′s global arrival drew near, I couldn’t help but contemplate my own birthday. I turned 33 at the end of the month, when Toronto was still stuck in a stay-at-home order. I was not going to let this virus define another year of my life. In lieu of celebrating with my loved ones, I hung my camera from a light fixture in my living room, stripped down to my birthday suit and curled into the fetal position, surrounded by 33 candles. It was time for a rebirth, to create a version of myself that learned to live with the pandemic rather than be controlled by it.

March 14, 2021. My 33rd birthday was two weeks ago. The day after my birthday, I had an interview for what might be a dream job. This might be my chance to recreate myself anew.

After each photoshoot, I posted the images on Instagram. As the comments came in, I discovered I wasn’t alone with these feelings. Friends and strangers reached out to me, telling me they, too, were experiencing the confusion and worry I was visually expressing.

I have taken 82 self-portraits of my journey through the last year and a half. What started off as submerging myself in a bathtub to capture one unprecedented moment in time grew into a documentation of my own personal journey.

Looking back on these images, I can see how I was equipping myself to process the trauma of isolation. The project has helped me find a balance in my life, as I created a new purpose for myself. A reason to keep going.

April 3, 2020

During a Zoom yoga class this morning, I started crying while staring at these curtains. I’m tired of seeing empty streets, or someone nervously crossing the road when a neighbour walks past. COVID-19 can’t magically be living inside these curtains, can they? I washed them before laying in them, just in case.

April 11, 2020

It’s Easter Sunday tomorrow and they’ve told us we can’t see our friends and families. I’m tired of watching the news. I would rather cover my eyes with thorns than face reality right now.

May 17, 2020

It’s Victoria Day long weekend. The sky is normally filled with explosions of colour. There will be no fireworks this year, no crowds. I needed to bring a spark back to life. May 17, 2020.

Sample HTML block

Nov. 14, 2020

Dancing by myself, because that’s 2020. This self-portrait was taken the day Toronto entered the red zone again. Solo dance parties aren’t so bad if they’re just for the moment, right?

Sample HTML block

Dec. 1, 2020

As a child, one of my favourite books was C.S Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. In it, the main characters walk into a wardrobe and enter the magical world of Narnia. Toronto is now about one week into its second 28-day lockdown. I’d rather try to find a fantasy world.

Sample HTML block

April 5, 2021

Two days ago, we entered a third province-wide shut down. I thought I was handling this well, but I feel like I could break at any moment.

Sample HTML block

April 18, 2021

On Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced an expansion of police powers to enforce stay-at-home orders. I don’t normally get involved in politics, but this was too much. We are not your prisoners. We are doing the best we can.

Sample HTML block

May 18, 2021

Things are changing. I started my new job last week and I’m getting my first vaccine on Monday. The wind is about to spread these seeds any minute. May 18, 2021.

Sample HTML block

Aug. 29, 2021

Summer 2021 is coming to an end. While the world is not yet out of the pandemic, it feels as though we are headed that way. I finally feel like me.


We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow topics related to this article:

Check Following for new articles