10 Oct 2021

the other side of lockdown

I'm writing this having just published my third book of photographs from the streets of Ealing over the last eighteen months. I'm anticipating - hoping? - it will be the last, having reached the end of the official restrictions, in England at least, back in July. However I think there's little belief that this is the end of the impact on the mental and physical health of a large part of the population and will be felt by generations to come.

 

My motivation for documenting the symbols of these times as they unfolded was to find a way for me to comprehend the changes in our ways of living, working, even being. In a world where so much influence is attributed to social media, I've been struck by the intimacy of handwritten notes and signs. Shops have become time machines, fast-forwarding us into the future. Hairdressers going out of business, re-opening as COVID testing centres. Want to buy some shoes? How about an electric bike instead? Simultaneously we've been pulled back in time. Posters for cinema and theatre openings replaced by public information instructions. Take a Jab for Britain. Countered by Cold War cartoons on lamp posts, representing the resistance. The mask has become a touchpaper of division we'll live with for a long time.

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It's been positive to turn these sideways observations into something of tangible benefit for people directly impacted by the pandemic, through making a contribution to Ealing Foodbank from the book sales. It's now set me on a path of working with other members of Ealing LIP to find ways to use photography to enable local community groups to express their own feelings about their experiences..

I've also been taken by my pivot from a lifetime of pursuing a passion for black and white photography on film of people on the streets of London's West End and other cities around the world, to a daily routine of using my mobile phone to record what I literally stumbled across on my morning runs around my local neighbourhood. So where does that leave me now, when I have the freedom to return to those streets? It's important to recognise the ideas and movements that have come to the fore in these febrile times. Rights of representation and the power of privilege are now impossible to ignore in everyday life and certainly in the practice of street photography. It's made me re-think carefully about my own ways of working.

On that note the range and brilliance of creative response to these time has been inspirational. I confess to having found it hard to resist buying books and zines, often for good causes, as well as attending fascinating virtual exhibitions and talks about peoples' ways of dealing with lockdown and loss. I'm proud to have been part of Ealing LIP's own contribution through the Ealing Unlocked exhibition. Platforms have been taken by marginalised voices and opportunities seized to innovate and share ideas with new audiences. I hope to see that the channels of production - as well as the work - will not be forgotten too.

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The pandemic has been a portent of the pace and impact of disruption that will become more common as we face the realities of social and climate disruption. Photography's response will inevitably draw upon its history of documenting, but I feel its tradition of activism will become more vital and those shifts in the balances of power can be amongst the positive changes we can take through the other side of lockdown.


 

4 Sept 2021

five storeys high

This year's group show of my local photography group is literally a step up from my last one. Taking over the front of a five storey police station sounds a pretty subversive exercise but this is being done with their cooperation and the support of a great crowdfunding campaign.

I confess to ambivalent feelings about the project. Initially I was intrigued if this would ever get off the ground (OK, the puns stop here) so getting involved in the fundraising has been a real education. It's understandably seen as a community relations exercise so for me the project has become an opportunity to engage local community groups in their experiences of lockdown and unlock (last one) some of their thoughts using the photographs as a starting point. Photography has become for me more and more a means to an end, the images themselves just one point in the process.

I'm really looking forward to working with people on these and continuing to try and make some sense of our times using photographs. No pressure then.


9 Aug 2021

staycation fever

 A break in Scotland presented me with a opportunity to take some different kind of photographs. no it's not the landscape of glens and waterfalls. You can take the boy of the street but the streets are still...well you get the picture.  Here's a series of snaps from a bedroom window. There's a lockdowny (word?) feel but it was the composition of the view and a sense of time passing that struck me.

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In the back of my mind I'm sure was the wonderful TTP project by Hayahisa Tomiyasu.


4 Jul 2021

countdown to freedom

Approaching the last weeks of the easing of lockdown in England I have to be honest I have mixed emotions. The restrictions and fear people have had to contend with for so long are now coming to an end which is great news. It also means - be definition - the end of my project which I have so enjoyed. It's been both a journey around my neighbourhood but also one where I've had to think hard about the photographs I make, the why and the how.

It's an opportunity make a final visit to the areas of Ealing I've been a regular visitor to over the last seventeen months, From Southall to Acton, Greenford to Pitshanger and all points in between. The motivation to publish the books is still to raise money for Ealing Foodbank but they've also become a great way for me to reflect on these strange times with a humble first rough draft of history  

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Documenting evidence of the effects of lockdown on our daily visual experience has inevitably brought my attention to a range of social trends of city living. The rise of diversity in advertising, in parallel to the use of wartime imagery in lockdown resistance campaigns. How paper and print are still a viable way to communicate messages even with the ubiquity and power of online influence. The evidence of people's front windows and walls to reveal the personalities of their occupiers in very public ways.

Enough. There's work to be done. 


6 Jun 2021

remember this?

I've celebrated my own return to normal this week. Back in the West End with a camera - not a phone - using film - not digital - in black & white - not..well you get the picture.

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It was a poignant moment. Lockdown has really made me consider my practice of street photography. I'm more conscious of the privileges I have to work in the way I do. Ethics are implicit too.

However I confess that feeling, giddiness even, of giving yourself to the moment, going with the flow, getting in the zone, is still as strong as ever.

Is it too late to change my style now? Is muscle memory too dominant? I have to ask why do I still plough this furrow, like a lounge musician still playing the standards, after all these years. My answer has been simple, a little pompous. It's because I have to. But I don't think that cuts it today. My Living Lockdown project has been about using that privilege to give back. Maybe that's the way forward, my own new normal.