On Either Side of the Window: Portraits During COVID-19

By Rania Matar | February 18, 2021

It seems as if life was on hold this past year—for everyone.  I am always straddling my two cultures and identities, as a Lebanese/Palestinian and as an American.  It feels as if the news is always creating divisions, “them v/s us,” and now here we are a “we”: all in this together, in the same boat, with life at a standstill and reduced to the confinement of home.  This virus is such an equalizer, making us all re-evaluate our shared humanity, our fragility, and our priorities.

“If the house of the world is dark,
Love will find a way to create windows.”
– Rumi

After a few days in isolation, and feeling a need for human interaction, I put a call out on Instagram asking people in the greater Boston area if they would agree to let me make their portrait through the window. It humbled me how many people were willing to be part of this, but also how important the human interaction we often took for granted, was—for both of us on either side of the window and of the camera. Despite the fact that we communicated across a physical barrier, we made a connection. The sense of being inside or outside was blurred. I am outside and looking in, but seeing the outside reflected onto the person in front of me.  Depending on where I stood, we could even overlap, connecting us on many levels, metaphorically and personally despite the physical barrier between us.


Rania Matar, Mia and Jun, Allston, Massachusetts, 2020


I aimed to capture the intimacy, beauty, anxiety and rhythm of daily life during lockdown, where the home acts simultaneously as a sanctuary and a prison. As the weeks went by and the “new normal” settled in, the portraits started transforming with the window almost acting like a stage and people on the inside becoming active participants in the photo session, bringing their ideas and their performances to the interaction we were creating.


Rania Matar, Austin, Boston, Massachusetts, 2020


Rania Matar, Ruth, Boston, Massachusetts, 2020


Rania Matar, Susan, Salem, Massachusetts, 2020


Rania Matar, Jayne, Boston, Massachusetts, 2020


Rania Matar, Minty, Kayla, Leyah, and Layla, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2020


Rania Matar, Ellie and Megan, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2020


Rania Matar, Cyrus, Brookline, Massachusetts, 2020


“On Either Side of the Window Portraits During COVID-19” is currently on display at the Cornell Fine Art Museum at Rollins. Click here to visit the museum site to see more images and take a virtual tour.

Copyright © 2021 Rania Matar
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  1. Charles Levin on February 18, 2021 at 10:05 am

    Stunning photos and story! Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Steve Kushner on February 18, 2021 at 10:22 am

    Wonderful project, beautifully executed. Even better, however, is the realization and affirmation that the pandemic has brought us under a single tent.

  3. Steven Edson on February 18, 2021 at 10:23 am

    Beautiful images and words.

  4. C. J. Lori on February 18, 2021 at 12:01 pm

    Magnificent portraits! I especially love the reflections of the trees and gardens. A deeply touching journey.

  5. Barbara Delinsky on February 18, 2021 at 2:46 pm

    These portraits are breathtaking, visually and emotionally. I fully connect with your subjects, which speaks to the success of what you’ve done. It is a brilliant project, carried out with skill and finesse. Thank you for sharing with us.

  6. Eatonville Chamber of Commerce Incorporated on February 18, 2021 at 5:13 pm

    What an awesome idea! The photos are beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Rania Matar on February 19, 2021 at 8:17 am

    Thank you so much to each and everyone of you for the very kind words!

  8. Lydia Gralla on February 24, 2021 at 10:43 pm

    I have been captivated by your photos for some time- they are beautiful and truthful. Looking forward to seeing more!

  9. Lydia on March 1, 2021 at 12:12 pm

    What beautiful photos! I loved the ways they were composed.

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