A. PUBLIC, COLLECTIVE AND PERSONAL RESPONSES
Photographing Covid No 1: Public and Collective responses
10th October 2020
1. ‘Picturing Lockdown Collection’
“On 29 April 2020 Historic England launched Picturing Lockdown, a unique project in which we asked the public to submit photos to document their experiences of one week in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We received almost 3,000 public submissions from across England, capturing a rich picture of our collective experience in an extraordinary time.
We selected the 100 most evocative, informative and inspiring, added 50 newly commissioned works by 10 contemporary artists and 50 more from Historic England’s photographers to create a final collection to be added to the Historic England Archive.”
What is interesting about the site is that it has public and professional images of lockdown. Few images are of working on line or in enclosed spacein lockdown apart from one
Andrew Gwynne at a screen during a parliamentary chamber meeting with his small child in the foreground reaching up to his desk.
More fruitful was the work of professionals such as the work of Adrian Moesby which is full of absences and much more subtle than the public work (Moesby, 2020). The image I have selected that is illustrative of his work is ‘Gathering Dust (Staying Home)’ – travel books and typewriter on a shelf. I can see myself producing similar work which allows the reader to enter the story without everything being spellled out.
Another commissioned artist is Roy Mehta (Mehta, 2020). The artist has written the following text to explain how this image documents their experience of lockdown:
“‘Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.’ Arundhati Roy: ‘The Pandemic is a Portal’
For most of us the first few days of the Lockdown was an experience of blurred reality. Perhaps we are transitioning, living through a moment of transformative change, to arrive at a different way of living.
In response my work explores the moments of transition in our locked down days: by making work in the early morning and late afternoon light, I use the opening and closing of the day as a metaphor for beginnings, endings and change.
I live in and am drawn to the ‘natural’ landscape. I love the slowness of the garden, of growing my own food. Like so many of us I have noticed a real change in the quality of the air, a lack of traffic noise, a greater awareness of birdsong and the sensation of time itself being slower.
The purpose of my reading over the past few weeks has been an attempt to counterbalance the often contradictory and sombre news updates with pieces of prose and poetry.
By juxtaposing my reading with my work, I hope to draw the viewer’s inner eye to the sensation of inner peace and of time slowed. By framing my work within these moments of change in the natural world I find a sense of time, of simply living in its flow.
Each piece of text has been carefully chosen and designed to act as a reference to the natural world and to the implications that the Pandemic has had on our position within the environment and between ourselves.” Copyright Ray Mehta
I think that this is enigmatic work. He says that there he intended to juxtapose images of nature with text to highlight the fragility of man to nature (my words)
Another professional image that I liked was from Dewe Mathews (Mathews, 2020). I think it is that absence that appeals to me as well as the consistency of shaping in the series.
During lockdown, people everywhere are craving open space, fresh air and distraction from news of the unfolding pandemic. The hour of allotted daily exercise offers, in this town, a particularly valued opportunity to “promenade”. During the weeklong Historic England commission, I made a series of photographs in Bottle Alley, documenting the quiet, slow days and our heightened relationship to the sea.”
What did I learn?
I have not mapped the range of images that people have taken in lockdown but more focussed on my own likes
Less in more in the frame as in the professional images – they also have a meta-narrative that binds the series together. There were few images of working on line in a space
2. Exhibition: Hold Still – The UK Lockdown – in pictures
Hold Still is a digital exhibition hosted by the National Portrait Gallery. People of all ages, from across the UK, were invited to submit a photographic portrait which they had taken during lockdown. The project aimed to capture and document the spirit, the mood, the hopes, the fears and the feelings of the nation as we continued in the pandemic.
Entrants were invited to submit a photographic portrait, which they had taken during lockdown, focussed on three core themes – Helpers and Heroes, Your New Normal and Acts of Kindness.
From virtual birthday parties, handmade rainbows and community clapping to brave NHS staff, resilient keyworkers and people dealing with illness, isolation and loss. The images convey humour and grief, creativity and kindness, tragedy and hope – expressing and exploring both our shared and individual experiences
I think that the exhibition marks out a good range of responses to the pandemic and I recognise those in my own and other people’s responses (Gallery, 2020). What it did not do well was to display more negative responses.
It was interesting that the director of the National Gallery explained his reasons for his choices. These were primarily about the quality of the image, although context was important.
There were three categories one of which was ‘Helpers and heroes’ (NPG, 2020)`I was less comfortable with these images as a doctor working at the time of Covid – perhaps it is this framing of doctors as heroes that challenges me
What did I learn?
- There is scope in my future work to do a similar thing in soliciting images of lockdown from health care workers – a collaborative venture
- This was the polished rather than the dull side of the coin. There is scope to look at negative aspects of lockdown such as loss of identity, marginalisation, anxiety, overworking etc
- The best images are uncluttered.
- Not all doctors are heroes
3. Getty images – a commercial database
There were 377,282 images on ‘lockdown’ on the Getty site on 1st October and 19,747 ‘Lockdown Home Working Premium High Res Photos’ (Getty, 2020). 275 were tagged with ‘depression’ and 425 with ‘stress.’ Even the latter images were ‘crisp.’ Most images had smiling people in them and were homogenous in nature. I don’t think that these sites are going to help me but the do illustrate the commercial trend.
Lots of research about the psychological impact of Covid but looking more at images here (Usborne, 2020).
ENGLAND, H. 2020. Picturing Lockdown Collection [Online]. https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/archive/collections/photographs/picturing-lockdown/: Historic England. [Accessed 1st October 2020].
GALLERY, N. P. 2020. ‘Hold still’ [Online]. https://www.npg.org.uk/hold-still/: National Portrait Gallery. [Accessed 1st October 2020].
GETTY. 2020. ‘Lockdown’ image search [Online]. https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/photos/lockdown?mediatype=photography&phrase=lockdown&sort=best: Getty Images. [Accessed 1st October 2020].
MATHEWS, D. 2020. ‘Untitled (Colonnade 4)’ – A view looking out from the covered lower walkway of Bottle Alley, showing two men walking their dogs on the beach. https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/photos/item/HEC01/036/02/10/04: Historicengland.org.uk.
MEHTA, R. 2020. ‘Pandemic’ – looking beyond the branches of a tree towards sunlight behind clouds. https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/photos/item/HEC01/036/02/07/05: historicengland.org.uk.
MOESBY, A. 2020. ‘Gathering Dust (Staying Home)’ – travel books and typewriter on a shelf. https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/photos/results/?searchType=HE%20Archive&search=Parent:115461209: Historicengland.org.uk.
NPG. 2020. Directors choice: ‘Helpers and heroes’ [Online]. https://www.npg.org.uk/hold-still/hold-still-curators-choice/: National Portrait Gallery. [Accessed 1st October 2020].
USBORNE, S. 2020. End of the office: the quiet, grinding loneliness of working from home [Online]. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2020/jul/14/end-of-the-office-the-quiet-grinding-loneliness-of-working-from-home: theguardian.com. [Accessed 1st October 2020 ].
Photographing Covid No 2: Personal responses
These are investigations of the links from the OCA Virtual study event: ‘Photography during a Global Pandemic’ Posted: 31/07/20. I could not attend it at the time.
“Join OCA tutor Arpita Shah in this unique virtual study event, which will explore the creative ways contemporary photographers having been working in to make inspiring and meaningful photography work during these unprecedented times. …Artists that will be explored in this session include: Rania Matar, Neha Hirve, Kristina Varaksina, Robert Ormerod, Jan Enkelmann, George Selley, Rinko Kawauchi and Alexia Webster.”
1. Rania Matar (Matar, 2020)
“If the house of the world is dark,
Love will find a way to create windows.”
“It seems as if life went on hold those past few weeks – for everyone. We all in this together, in the same boat, with life at a standstill, 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.
Isolation and confinement offered me the gift of time at home with my family, and in the studio with my work. I had almost forgotten how precious both are. With time and space to re-evaluate what matters, and with a need for human interaction, I reached out to a few friends and started visiting them – while keeping the physical distancing – and making their portraits through the window. A new project about “connecting across barriers” emerged. From a few friends at first, the circle kept growing. 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 only communicated across a physical barrier, we really and truly 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.
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.”
What did I learn from this artist?
- This is making use of the space that is there – looking out of the window, but there are many dimensions of gaze visible.
- Very polished
- The observed clearly react and participate
2. Neha Hirve (Abel-Hirsch, 2020)
I liked this as it was as story of a life and family in lockdown
“I realised I was making the kind of pictures that I’d always wanted to make — less documentary, more interpretive”
“The resulting series, which is titled both your memories are birds, was not conceived as a response to the pandemic, but it became one. Hirve responds to the tumult of the current moment by retreating to the cosseted memories of her childhood, finding stability and grounding in recollections of her past. Birds are a central motif, their outstretched forms dappling the dusky sky above her grandparent’s rooftop — flying, soaring, and sweeping through her various photographic frames. The birds symbolise freedom, at a moment when physical freedom has gone, and also Hirve’s childhood, a childhood that is now lost: “India has changed in the past 10 years, both because it really has, and because I am seeing it with adult eyes.”
“Amid images of birds, flowers and foliage are Hirve’s grandparents: her grandfather disguised beneath a World Health Organisation cap; her grandmother cast in the glow of a candle dancing through the dark; his face crinkles, hers turns away — a sinuous plait cascading down her back. “It has been hard and beautiful at once,” says Hirve of isolating with such vulnerable individuals; “they are older in ways I’d never thought about before”. Photography has enabled her to confront their mortality — she acknowledges it, but also records this unprecedented period of time they have spent together. “We want to protect the elderly from the virus because it feels like something we can control, but, the reality is that we are dealing with these anxieties all the time,” she reflects, “one day we will lose those we love and all that will remain are memories of a time, which we will re-colour as being somehow perfect.”
I liked the stillness of the images – they were quiet and reflective.
3. Kristina Varaksina
ABEL-HIRSCH, H. 2020. Neha Hirve frames her past and present [Online]. https://www.bjp-online.com/2020/06/neha-hirve-frames-her-past-and-present/: British journal of Photography. [Accessed 1st October 2020].
MATAR, R. 2020. Rania Matar : On Either Side of the Window [Online]. https://raniamatar.com/publications/pdf/matar2020_LOeil-jun.pdf: raniamatar.com. [Accessed 1st October 2020].