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Coronavirus canceled his birthday party. These beautifully intimate photographs became his gift

Photographer Saam Gabbay celebrated his birthday last month by documenting his friends and family at home as they sheltered in place.
Photographer Saam Gabbay celebrated his birthday last month by documenting his friends and family at home as they sheltered in place.
(Saam Gabbay)
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When Saam Gabbay’s birthday landed amid the coronavirus pandemic last month, the Los Angeles-based photographer decided to turn a missed opportunity into an intimate celebration. Unable to celebrate with his guests at a birthday party, Gabbay decided to visit his friends and family at their homes throughout Los Angeles and photograph them through their window as they sheltered in place.

“Uncertainty created a shared vulnerability and heightened sense of daily gratitude,” Gabbay said. “I canceled a planned gathering and decided to see my friends and family at their homes. Not that I could go near them. Instead, I photographed them from outside, looking in. I mapped out a route from Venice to Pasadena and asked to meet at their windows at a set time.

“I’m Iranian born, and Iranian culture is one of deep attunement. When one is socialized to say ‘yes,’ one must constantly scan micro-expressions for whether a ‘yes’ is really a ‘no.’ Similar to jazz musicians who listen for micro-cues, when I shoot, I aim to create that same sense of connection and attunement that I experience culturally and when I play music.”

The result is a series of portraits documenting a “touchless” but intimate birthday celebration during an extraordinary time in history.

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9:30 a.m.

“It's not easy being difficult” — Ole
“It’s not easy being difficult” — Ole
(Saam Gabbay)

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10:10 a.m.

“We love you, Saam. Thanks for bringing your birthday celebration to all of us!” — Eric + Eliah
“We love you, Saam. Thanks for bringing your birthday celebration to all of us!” — Eric + Eliah
(Saam Gabbay )

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11 a.m.

“This man wanted to see his quarantined friends on his birthday. What happened next will shock you.” —Spencer
(Saam Gabbay)

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2 p.m.

“We are in isolation, but all interconnected. “ — Mom & Dad
“We are in isolation, but all interconnected. “ — Mom & Dad
(Saam Gabbay)

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3 p.m.

“We’re all on the inside looking out. Thanks for coming by and looking in. HBD, Saam!” — Joachim & Amanda
“We’re all on the inside looking out. Thanks for coming by and looking in. HBD, Saam!” — Joachim & Amanda
(Saam Gabbay)

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4:30 p.m.

“Standing in front of my window and having my picture taken from the outside while quarantined, I felt peace when I would normally feel tension. An understanding of connection and commonality of all humans. The joy of a familiar face was a great gift you offered on your very own birthday. Thank you.” — Raluca
(Saam Gabbay)

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5 p.m.

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” — Homa
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” — Homa
(Saam Gabbay)

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7:45 p.m.

“The wine bottle was not staged.” — Dave
“The wine bottle was not staged.” — Dave
(Saam Gabbay)

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