About a month into the pandemic, when I was already feeling antsy and itching to travel again, a friend of mine invited me to join a Facebook group where people from around the world, all locked down in their homes, were sharing the view from their window.
Being able to get a new perspective was game-changing. It was a privilege to literally see the world through other people’s windows.
Seeing everyone’s photos and reading their stories was so interesting, so personal and so comforting, I couldn’t wait for each new post. View from my window created a community where people thousands and thousands of miles away from each other could connect and find some solace in the fact that they were all going through the same experience together even if they were alone.
View from my window went live one year ago, and today founder Barbara Duriau is continuing the magic with the launch of a new website. She’s published a book to commemorate the project; it’s an amazing documentation of this time in history and a must-have for all of us who are living through it.
I’ve been so obsessed with this group – there are so many places I want to visit now – that I reached out to Duriau to thank her and get the backstory of the group that helped keep me sane during the pandemic.
First, tell us a little about yourself.
I am Belgian, 48 years old and I am a graphic designer by profession. In 1998, I travelled around the world backpacking for one year. No Facebook, no Insta, no filter. I caught the travel bug.
In 2018, I decided to leave Brussels, quit my job after 17 years at “Tintin” Company for a new life. I left everything to move to Amsterdam, for the love of the city where I live now. I had a thirst for new discoveries, to live new experiences in another country.
Why did you decide to start View from my window?
On Sunday March 22, 2020, I was on the phone with friends and we were talking about Covid. I realized we were going to be stuck at home with a single solitary view from our window for many long weeks, maybe months. Being curious and a globetrotter, I thought to myself: “What is the view like on the other side of the world? And what if I asked Internet users to take photos of their views and share them with other isolated people in a Facebook group?” I thought this would make it possible for them to “travel” through other people’s windows. We were all in the same boat, and this was a way to connect people across the world. The day after, View from my window was born!
What were you doing when the pandemic hit? How did it effect your own life?
I was living in my tiny flat when the lockdown happened. I had just started as a freelance graphic designer 15 days before. Everything still had to be built professionally, and an important project had been cancelled because of the coronavirus. So I had a lot of time on my hands to think – and to overthink – about my uncertain future, what I really wanted to do, to create, to dream. I wanted a concept, to make something happen. Then the 23rd of March turned my life upside down. It combined all my passions: visual images, travel and connections.
What was the first view posted?
Mine! From my little, tiny apartment. It was not a breathtaking view but at least the sun was shining.
What were people’s reactions to the group?
So positive! The success was dazzling and global. It was quickly nicknamed The Feel-Good Group. It came at a moment when people were already fed up with the bad news that was creating anxiety. So it came as a breath of fresh air. The international media got hold of it and was delighted to tell a happy story at a gloomy moment in time, which had a snowball effect. I was swamped with interviews!
How quickly did the group grow?
The number doubled every week. The day after its creation, 2,675 people joined the group. One week later, 50,000! By April 15, one million. On April 26, VFMW had more than two million members.
On April 29 we decided not to accept any more new members in order to stay close to the concept of the group. It was a such a difficult decision. But we already had 20 admins and 300,000 photos were awaiting processing. 300,000! If we hadn’t stopped, the group would probably have 10 million members now! It would have been unmanageable.
How many countries have been represented in the group?
Which specific posts have been the most popular? Do certain scenes – like beaches and sunsets – get more of a response than others?
Definitely! One of them is a sunset on the pyramids in Cairo. That picture got 170K likes! He tells his life story, the challenges he has been through and talks about his dream of seeing the world, which he has now realized. So sunsets, stories, iconic views like Rome or the Eiffel Tower were the most popular. Animals, too.
Did you approve all posts or did you have to reject some?
Yes, there were strict rules to follow to prevent inappropriate content that would go against the community’s guidelines like views taken from cars or during last holidays, close-ups of pets or flowers, multiple or 3D photos, videos, people you could clearly identify, photos of people with their feet up or having evening drinks. The goal was really to capture the moment in all its simplicity, putting the focus on the view only. But people don’t like following the rules, you know. (Laughs) That’s why I can say that only one in three photos was approved. But we have never rejected a post because the view was too modest – just the contrary! This was not a photo contest for the most beautiful view, although there were many of those.
Are there stories people have shared or any moments that really stand out to you?
There are those that make me shiver and bring tears to my eyes and others that make me smile again when the work gets too repetitive. The book is made up of all the stories related to the pandemic that touched me. Simple, moving and strong stories of life under the Covid.
Here are some:
Nou from NY: “I am a nurse in NYC taking care of positive Corona post partum patients. I am cordoned off from rest of my family: 93 year old Mom. 90 year old father. 14 year old daughter & immunocompromised brother with cancer. A wall of plastic sheet separates my bed and bath from rest of home. My family leaves plates of food for me to pick up on the back porch. This is my view from back door of porch. I wave to my family through the door and window of the back porch. Everyone is helping… Team Spirit… In this together…”
Arianna from Florence, Italy: “We hardly ever enjoyed our balcony before: it was home for our cactus and not much more. Since we are in quarantine (over a month, now) this tiny terrace has become: a swimming pool for toys, a solarium, a restaurant, a stage for neighborhood concerts, a library, a cafeteria, a launch pad for soap bubbles. Even if we don’t have a garden or any outdoor space, we feel blessed. Stay safe and enjoy what you have!”
Pearl from Montana: “After seeing such spectacular views from tropical and warm places on this site, I questioned how I would capture my view for the past 20 years of pine trees, overgrown vegetation and a tired dirt road. I walked around to several windows and just sighed at how plain and boring it all looked. Then I opened the front door and was captured by the beauty of what I saw. An evening rain had just passed and rays of sun were coming through the clouds and lighting up the trees. My eyes focused on my husband’s grandfather’s rocking chair and it was like I was seeing it for the very first time. The chair was given to us years ago and with no place to put it I had simply left it on the porch. Now placed beside the old milk cans holding dollar store flowers, the chair seems to be sending a message from days gone by. A message from quieter times when lingering on porches was a norm, not a luxury. Personally I have never even sat in the chair, but simply through the activity of taking this picture, I know that will change. This season of Covid, of forced slow down, of reduced activity, of global common ground, is showing up in our lives as a gift. Up until now life for my family was too busy to be porchin’. Yet today, that changes. I am going to sit a spell in grandpa’s chair and breathe deeply. Life is precious. Take time to smell the flowers. Be safe.”
Judy bought the book and she wrote: “So incredibly excited. This will be a gift for Great grandaughter born 2/18/20 so she can know the experience of the world when she was born. I am putting the book in a “time capsule” under a Live Oak tree we planted this year in honor great granddaughter with instructions to open on 18th birthday.”
My Belgian-American friend Sonja, also an administrator, wrote on our WhatsApp group: “I swear I just had goosebumps and my heart started beating faster… so I just approved a photo… of the small town where I was born 47 years ago, deep in the heart of the United States… Pittsfield, Massachusetts… I am quite overwhelmed… to know that a guy from way over there posted his little photo and the fact that by sheer chance I fell upon it and I had to approve it.”
What surprised you most about the group?
How much people love their country and are proud of it. How they are really love being part of this crazy community. I never imagined it would create so many connections. People were greeting each other, chatting in private, helping each other. It was magic.
How many photos have you received to date?
Very very approximatively, we received between 500,000 and 700,000 but “only” approved and posted about 250,000.
When/why did you decide to create a book?
From the very beginning, when I started to receive photos from all over the world, it was obvious to me! View from my window was created to connect internet users from the four corners of the world during lockdwown, and the book was created to keep track of what we have been living for months, that we have been through the pandemic together. It’s our family album and a unique testimony to hand over to future generations.
How did you decide which photos to include in the book?
I saved the most striking photos from the beginning of the group in March. Very quickly the photos were placed in drawers, almost by themselves. After that it was necessary to select the most relevant ones, either by the story behind the picture, the power, the aesthetic aspect or a striking detail. It was a very difficult process. In the end, 260 were selected and divided into 12 chapters like “Deserted streets,” “All you need is love,” “Behind the scene,” “Tomorrow is a new day.”
How many countries are represented in the book?
Do you have any personal favorites or photos that have really made you want to visit that place in person?
So many! But first, the cover picture of the book, of course! Kyrgyztan (page 229 in the book). Also, large landscapes such as the United States or Australia, in the middle of nowhere, always attract me more than beaches.
Have you made friends through the group that you’ll visit when we’re all vaccinated? Have other people talked about doing that?
Sadly, there was not enough time for me to have more personal conversations with the members. I’d love to meet members, go to their homes all over the world! One day I received a letter from Australia, from a member whose picture is in the book, just to thank me for what I had created. This beautiful letter was accompanied by a lovely bookmark with a poem. I was overwhelmed by it. That this person, so far away, took the time to write this letter, written on lightweight aeroplane paper, as it used to be done – and to mail it. I was able to touch that paper, it was not virtual. And that felt really good! I would like to meet this person. Recently, I read this from Amy H. about her mum who just received the book: “Barbara, my mom loves it! I asked her where she wanted to travel. Her answer was ‘to go meet Barbara who created this awesome experience.’” I would love to meet this mum somewhere! A lot of members want to meet each other. I’ve read this many times. I must now take this into account and organize it! Simple! (Laughs)
What’s been the most meaningful part of the group for you?
The connections! We were able talk to people thousands of miles away that we would never have met. We could connect, dream, escape. The group has had a significant impact on everyone’s daily lives. We shared our lives and our hopes, difficulties and helped each other. We felt less lonely. It was not only their views but also their emotions and their stories that people wanted to share during the lockdown. Some say that the group has saved them from suffering from depression during these difficult times. Connections between people are the foundation of our lives. We are not meant to live alone, without sharing. We like to belong to something. Because it is a global group, it is fun to discover different reactions connected to people’s culture. I’ve learned a lot.
Is the group still getting as many submissions or has that decreased over time?
People still want to post their views. We are approving pending posts as I speak. There are only 360 photos left.
Are you planning to keep the group even after the pandemic is “over?”
The group has changed my life. It was an extraordinary adventure. When I created View from my window, I knew it was an ephemeral group because the concept was linked to covid19. But it turned out that it has been beyond my expectations. I feel like the shepherd and his herd. I feel close to the members; they are part of my life! My aim now is to keep the community alive and united. Today, the official View from my window website will be launched to welcome them. A new platform, same spirit. A chatroom will be set there, only for members. They will be able to log in as a host or as a guest. I have so many projects in mind – for example trips to each other’s homes, exhibitions and a documentary, as well.
Is there anything else you want readers to know?
That we never know what tomorrow will be like and that life can be surprising. Travel is essential. View from my window has had more than 270 million interactions. And that makes me dizzy and smile! Thank you to all members for being part of this. As Nicole M. from Buffalo, NY said,“When one door closes, many many windows open.”