Through his project “6ft Apart,” Sacramento-based documentary photographer Andri Tambunan shares the stories of households around town, including his own, as they navigate the coronavirus crisis.
The Tambunan Family
Andri (far left): “This is my family: my sister with our dog Mocha, my mom, my brother Jon with our dog Mickey, and my brother Ramos with his family, his son Theo and wife Eva.
I moved back to Sacramento in late December 2019 after spending almost a decade living in Indonesia and working as a documentary photographer covering Southeast Asia. In my line of work, I’ve covered armed conflicts, violent protests and humanitarian disasters. However, because I am living with my mom and other family members, I haven’t accepted or pursued any assignment that carries a high risk of infecting my household. It was important, though, for me to record the impact of this pandemic on individuals, families and communities around me, and I have found personal projects to pursue that are safe for me and the people I photograph.
My biggest scare during the lockdown was taking my mom to the emergency room. She was sleeping and woke up around 1:30 a.m. because her blood pressure shot up. The first thought that came to my mind was that it could be related to COVID-19. When I reached the ER, I wasn’t allowed to enter inside. The nurse took her in and I waited several hours while the doctor ran multiple tests. The doctor said that her test results were normal and that the high blood pressure might have been caused by stress, exhaustion and poor diet. My mom, who is 72, is still very active and independent and she told me that she was experiencing stress from being confined inside.
Every Sunday we have been having our family dinner. We usually do this on special occasions but during the lockdown, we have a potluck every week and I hope it will continue. I’ve been asked many times if I am happy to be back, and honestly, there is no other place I’d rather be than close and present with my family during this time of uncertainty.”
“I work in health care and am currently in quarantine alone. Work is quieter with no visitors allowed and nonessential surgeries and procedures being canceled or postponed. One adjustment is having to give extra emotional support to patients who are dealing with surgeries, new diagnoses and extended hospitalizations with no family or loved ones at their side. Watching patients go through these stressful hospitalizations alone is truly heartbreaking.
As health care professionals, we are exposed to so many things but never something this new and uncertain, so when COVID became more publicized and California announced [its] first reported COVID-related death [in March], it felt surreal. I never imagined enduring a pandemic during my nursing career. The fear of getting severely ill or unknowingly passing it to someone compromised was real. A lot of efforts were put in place to conserve PPE [personal protective equipment] and maintain safe social distancing. Wearing masks all day at work and now outside of work in public spaces became the new norm. When the CDC recommended face coverings or masks, we had an influx of donated masks made by volunteers and people even offered to donate N95s. The overwhelming amount of support and generosity from friends and the community has helped tremendously.
The silver lining for me is being able to remember all the positives that have come out of this—appreciating the value of quality time and relationships, reconnecting, staying productive, practicing empathy, learning new skills, becoming better versions of ourselves in general. After this whole experience, I hope our health care system will be better prepared in the future for a public health crisis. With all the research and findings, I hope they can keep the virus under control and that we can maintain a global effort to keep ourselves safe. We are all in this together.”
Aaron & Pa Brown, Susan (12), Sky the Bulldog
Aaron: “The adjustments that my family and I had to make during quarantine were rough. I’m a business development manager for an automobile group and was furloughed. Now that I am confined at home, I wake up, have my coffee and look around the house to see what needs to be done—dishes, lawn work, laundry, etc. Normally I enjoy these tasks, but it’s because these were my weekend tasks. Now they’re my everyday tasks, so it feels off for me. Meanwhile my wife has not left the house since relocating from the office to work from home. She is fearful of going out to public places due to the rise in hate crimes against Asians since the pandemic.
I finally understand the amount of work and effort my wife puts in to keep the house clean and intact. I never realized how much work it takes to run a household. Normally, I go to work and come home and the house is clean, meals are cooked, and our daughter’s homework and projects are done. To have the roles reversed has been an eye-opening experience.
My prayer for everyone is basically, ‘Do not take things for granted.’ The simplest things, such as being able to walk inside a store or around a park, come so easily and naturally that we feel like we are entitled to such privileges. But in reality, when we carry that type of mentality and turns of events happen, we don’t know what to do or how we are going to function. It’s definitely been a humbling moment for me. Many people have died, many have gone without, and we need to do better for one another and future generations. I am going to end with this: There are many things in life we cannot and will not have control of, so enjoy the moment and make the best of things. Serve people, love people. Tomorrow is not promised.”
Patty Felkner & Mike Mahoney, Maeve Mahoney (18)
Patty: “At the beginning of all this, I had some panic and anxiety, especially after what happened in Italy. One day, I just freaked out and started crying and drove my car for about an hour before I felt better. I ended up on a country road after a rain. I felt better and went home.
Since we are in education, everything has changed. [Felkner is a photography professor at Cosumnes River College and Mahoney is an English teacher at Rio Americano High School.] I had three days to prepare five online classes. The learning curve has been steep. I consider myself tech-savvy, but this experience has been overwhelming. Teaching in South Sacramento, I have students from ages 17 to 75, of all colors and cultures and levels of advantage or poverty, so many of them have struggled to get through the curriculum, or have just grown frustrated and dropped classes. Mike had a few weeks. His district distributed Chromebooks to students and he’s been using Zoom to reach them. He is also the yearbook and newspaper advisor. His students have been hustling to cover the crisis. Maeve took a leave of absence from her job as a bagger at Raley’s because I have asthma and we really had no idea what this virus was going to look like. She Zoomed her way through her senior year.
I won the lottery by being born middle class and white in America. I’m grateful. I believe my family and I will be fine if we stay healthy. I am not particularly religious, but pray that we can address poverty and public health in this country going forward. If this crisis has not revealed the necessity of taking care of those who are the most marginalized, what will it take? For the world, I hope the same. I hope it’s a wake-up call.”
Michelle Veridiano & Isabelle Veridiano-Saechou (12)
Michelle: “This photograph will forever be a reminder of living through a pandemic that I had to help my daughter navigate, a time when I had no time to process what was happening before having to make changes for the two of us. A time when we were restricted from going anywhere. A time when almost everything was shut down. A time when we should be wearing masks anytime we stepped outside of the house. To think that this will be a memory that she lived through and will share with the next generation is a crazy thought to wrap my mind around.
The struggle is real. My daughter is with her dad every other weekend so I have her the majority of the time. Raising her on my own has become more of a challenge, trying to balance work, my daughter’s school, making meals throughout the day and making sure we have personal time together. I also have to remember to take care of my health physically, given my issues with asthma, and mentally, because there isn’t anyone else to hold down the fort when I am not feeling 100 percent or feeling depleted.
With all that said, this pandemic has forced me to slow down. I’ve learned to be more mindful and present. I am grateful that we have found ways to adapt to the situation. I’ve been cooking more, working on projects in the house I’ve been meaning to get to and incorporating more activities to do together into our daily routines.
My hope for the future is to find a better normal. I saw this quote [by poet and activist Sonya Renee Taylor] that says it all: ‘We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.’ ”
Jeff Musser & Phuong Tran
Jeff: “I am an artist and my girlfriend Phuong is a chef and restaurant owner. We’re sitting outside her house downtown. I’m lucky in that my work requires me to be solitary, plus I am an only child, so being and working by myself is nothing new for me. But I was very social before COVID-19. Normal socializing is on hold, which has been difficult. As much as I need my solitude, I also crave being around people. Phuong’s restaurant [Fish Face Poke Bar, co-owned by Kru’s Billy Ngo] was deemed essential, so work has not stopped for her. Once they switched to takeout and curbside pickup, they just kept rolling.
I have been stressed about money because anytime there is an economic downturn, the arts and entertainment industry takes a huge hit. In 2008-2009, it was different. There was a definite contraction in spending, but people could still visit museums. Art fairs were still open. People still frequented galleries. I was still making sales and commissions. I would also spend a lot of time traveling for art exhibitions across the U.S. All of that is in limbo now. Luckily I have money saved up and she still brings in a paycheck, but it’s stressful. I have been looking for a regular 9-to-5 gig, but when you haven’t had a ‘real’ job in years, it’s hard to translate to employers that you have skills. Phuong is more stressed than usual because the restaurant is doing the same amount of business, but with less staff, so she is exhausted at the end of each workday.
As soon as everything went to sh-t, all those jobs that were previously considered ‘unskilled, low-wage, dead-end’ became essential. Those people were heroes. The silver lining of the pandemic, in my opinion, is that people will realize this economy—and this country, for that matter—can function just fine without hedge fund billionaires. I hope people will make the effort to do the serious work of fixing all that is broken in our country.”
Cheryl Granado, Cayden (14) and Aeris (12)
Cheryl: “I’m a personal stylist and jewelry designer. I’ve worked remotely now for six years, and telecommuting allows me to have a broad work environment. I’ve worked off my laptop from my couch, co-working spaces, coffee shops and on vacation. My remote position couldn’t have prepared me for this ‘new normal’ way of life during the quarantine. The boys actually like distance learning and completing schoolwork at their own pace. I, on the other hand, felt restrained from working in the same space, day after day. I would hop from seat to seat at my dining table to change my view—it didn’t work.
In the first week of quarantine, I tried to prepare myself mentally for what was to come: reduced work hours, school closures, caring for and entertaining my kids full-time at home, and ‘doomsday’ pantry stock-up of meds, toilet paper, food and other supplies. While my mind was focused on getting things in order, my body was feeling overwhelmed—and it sure let me know it! My anxieties caused my body to shut down unexpectedly during a night in prayer—a panic attack. I soon realized I was in survival mode before processing the uncertainty of this time. Mental health guidance, deeper meditation, added spiritual practices and scrolling past COVID-19 updates on social media helped lower my anxieties. Staying in the present moment, taking it day by day, and knowing I am not alone in this are now part of my daily habit of self-care.
We live very close to the downtown area [in West Sacramento], so our lifestyle is typically active. Although shelter-in-place has limited our activities, we are still able to stay active by hiking, kayaking, biking and taking walks by the river. Entertaining myself and the boys at home has been interesting. I am currently undefeated at poker, but my chess game needs practice. I never knew beating them at their own game—video games—would be so gratifying.
I now embrace this ‘new normal.’ It has been enlightening. Adapting to a simpler lifestyle shows me the value of time and quality of life. This time in quarantine has helped me strengthen my relationship with my sons, family, friends, my faith and even myself.”
Andrew Gibson & Lorelei Cruz Gibson, Andreas (6) and Leandro (1)
Lorelei: “There’s always been more than enough to do—work, teach, cook, feed, clean, do laundry, pay bills, give baths, go grocery shopping, take walks, find fun activities to do with the boys, etc. So in a lot of ways, I’ve appreciated the extra time at home without having to worry about attending all the usual social activities. I feel like I’m finally getting on top of all the household chores, instead of constantly playing catch-up.
I’ve always had a tendency to look at the bright side. On top of what I mentioned previously, the obvious silver lining is the invaluable time I have with my family. In addition to that, there’s less traffic and pollution, there is a global effort to combat the pandemic, people have a deeper appreciation for things they used to take for granted, there’s less frivolous spending (for myself at least), there are people taking advantage of the limitless possibilities of technology, people are learning all sorts of new things, there’s less eating out and more cooking at home, families are taking more walks and bike rides together, there are spikes in pet adoptions, there’s less emphasis on celebrities and more gratitude for essential workers, there’s more tending to gardens and making use of our backyards. I could go on and on.
I hope we all carry the lessons learned from this pandemic as we move forward. I hope we all lean in to help families grieve lost loved ones or get by from lost wages and jobs. I hope abused family members take the courage to seek help and that members of their community recognize their suffering and find ways to help. I hope essential workers get some much-needed rest and added compensation. I hope we continue to value personal hygiene and be considerate of others by the use of masks and hand washing. I hope we maintain the mentality that life must go on and sh-t must still get done regardless of how we do it. I hope we find a cure. And I hope we are better prepared for the next pandemic.”