Stuck in China’s lockdown, one Russian photographer kept a visual diary of eerie walks and makeshift masks 

Both haunting and playful, Kira Golikova’s photos from Zhengzhou, the capital of China’s central province of Henan, capture the escalating panic with an eerie humour.

30 March 2020

At the end of 2019 I set off for a new adventure. I moved to China in October in the hopes of exploring another culture, meeting interesting people, embracing opportunities and new life experiences.

I first visited South-East Asia in 2016, when I spent two years travelling the world. I began to take photos during these travels: it started with travel and street photography, then on my return to St Petersburg in 2018 I decided to study documentary photography and photojournalism at Docdocdoc.

But when I had arrived in Zhengzhou in 2019, I found myself alone in a city of nearly 10 million people. Mandarin proved to be a challenging language to pick up, I struggled to make new friends, and I experienced a strong cultural shock. And then the coronavirus outbreak began in China.

One of the residential quarters of Zhengzhou.

I had no choice but to self-isolate in my unfamiliar Chinese apartment — a reality many people across the globe find themselves in today. Sometimes, I went for walks and photographed the streets, which looked more like scenes from a post-apocalyptic movie.

Most western countries have adopted China’s lockdown strategy, but I didn’t hear of people stockpiling food and toilet paper in Zhengzhou. I noticed that in China people are quicker to rely on their government, waiting for them to solve the problem. By comparison, my friends from Russia have been telling me that they feel alone in this situation, that they can count only on themselves.

To reduce my anxiety I started shooting self-portraits. I found creative inspiration from the news cycle online, but decided to make my photographs more absurd. I wanted to protect myself, not from the virus, but the escalating panic inside myself. The weird props and objects became a reminder that much of the fear inside of me is a product of my own imagination.

On the first week of the coronavirus outbreak, I saw images of people wearing plastic bottles instead of medical masks. I decided to make my own and add sunglasses — to protect my eyes from the infection.

An empty road in the city centre of Zhengzhou on the second week of lockdown.

A mask made from lettuce leaves.

A riverside view of Zhengzhou city centre.

I cleaned my phone and camera with the medical alcohol every time I came home. Just in case.

An empty park in one of the residential quarters of Zhengzhou.

A homemade medical mask made from a plastic bottle

The remains of New Year celebrations

I’ve seen smokers make a hole in their masks so they can smoke without having to take the mask off

Cafe under lockdown.

Double protection: from the coronavirus and from vampires.

22. An empty road in the city centre of Zhengzhou on the second week of lockdown.

I saw a picture of man using a pad as protection and I knew I had to reconstruct that.

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