I was looking through my pictures the other day, updating my Flickr and Instagram and I had a thought, that I thought was interesting.
So if you’re a follower of me you will know that because I take a lot of photographs using film, the time it takes to process films and then sort through them (and because I don’t post a lot of pictures every day) means that my Instagram and Flickr are often lagging behind my life in terms of time.
So the pictures that I’m taking at the moment on 35mm film most likely won’t be shared with the world until it at least nine months from now, and as I sit here today we are, in the UK at least but also around the world in the coronavirus lockdown, which means that our movements are restricted in order to protect us from spreading the disease.
That has many implications for someone who likes doing photography as a hobby.
In the UK you’re only allowed to leave your house if you need to go to work as a key worker, if you need to shop for essential food (and even then as infrequently as possible) and for a short period of exercise every day.
I’m not a key worker, so I work from home right now and I only go shopping once a week.
So the idea of going off with the camera for a walk around the town and to get a cup of coffee and hang out, or go for a day out to a nice picturesque place is currently not possible.
I’ve been taking a few photographs around the garden and I carried my instant camera with me on one of my exercise walks recently, but I think it’s true that’s there’s going to be a big drop-off of photographic activity, and most certainly in my own photographic activities during this lockdown period.
It struck me as I was sorting through my photographs yesterday that I although I don’t really practice street photography, as in I don’t consciously go out onto the street looking to capture people going about their daily business in a kind of candid way, I do nevertheless take pictures from time to time where there are people in the images.
These stand out as being different from pictures that I take when there are no people in the image. Very often if I want to take a picture of a building I will wait and wait and wait until there’s no people.
But of course that’s not always possible and there are many occasions where I want to take a picture and people being in the image is not a problem; it’s not going to spoil the image.
I’ve never felt very comfortable about snapshotting people’s lives but that whole business of taking pictures with people in has now taken on a new dimension for me.
Because of the lockdown we’re restricted in how we can interact with strangers and indeed even members of our own families, and we have to keep our distance to stop the virus spreading.
So going out and about now means me focusing on getting my daily exercise or getting my shopping. I feel guilty if I spend any longer outside of my household or pause to stop and think when I’m exercising because the risk of infection is there for me and anyone else who is out and about.
It struck me that very often even when I wasn’t consciously taking pictures of people I was still taking pictures of somebody doing something, and those moments live on in my photographs.
So I put an album together on Flickr that I called “Street-ish”, examples of that practice of taking photographs whilst out and about, of recording a place or recording a moment and the people that are in that moment, that now live on in in the photons that were captured by my images, by my photography.
Because now…these images…they all represent people who didn’t know about “this”. The pandemic is new to us. As a generation, as a Western society we don’t generally face the threat of infection from daily life.
Part of the privilege of living in the West is that our water is clean and our food is safe to eat. So these are all images of people who who aren’t afraid of catching a disease.
They are people who for the most part are healthy and can hang out together, and it makes me consider what “together” is, because some of the people are close to each other, and some of the people are distant.
But they’re not consciously putting two metres distance between each other. These images are from are days when it was safer to walk outside. You might bump into somebody and you might catch something like a cough or a cold, but the threat of a deadly disease which can be very difficult to recover from was not literally in the air when I was taking these photographs.
When I walk around now at the moment you know people seem frightened of each other. We are keeping our distance from each other. I might wave at somebody or put my thumbs up if we’ve consciously made a decision to set two meters distance apart from each other as we’re passing in the street just to say “hey it’s not personal and thank you for stepping aside for me”.
But there are no crowds of people any more. A lot of us are talking or thinking about “when it gets back gets back to normal” and if we ever do get back to anything that seems like normal, well for a long time we may not be gathering in crowds. We’re going to want to keep our distance because we won’t know for a long time whether it’s safe, and whether we will have beaten the coronavirus.
I’m not a scientist and I’m not an epidemiologist, I’m just a regular person who didn’t realise until now how much I liked being out in the world, around people.
No matter how much of a “people person” or an introvert you may be, not that long ago nobody realised this was coming and even after weeks of lockdown in the UK we are still struggling as a society to deal with the consequences of that.
So I was struck as I was looking through these images by how often I actually did include people in photos, and I did capture them. Sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. Moreover I’m struck by how much I miss them. How much I miss people and being around people.
The weather has mostly been nice on lockdown so far, and when it’s going to be a sunny day I would love to take my camera, or a selection of them, out into the town where I live and point them at things and capture moments, and I can’t do that right now in the same way as I used to.
Mostly this is out of a sense of responsibility, because you mustn’t spend time that’s unnecessary outside, and you mustn’t make unnecessary travel, and I know why we’ve got to do that. I know that’s my part to play in outsmarting the virus and stopping its chances of reproducing amongst us.
But in an unexpected way it’s given me a new perspective on how people are part of the joy of photography for me, and how it has been my privileged freedom to wander about with my camera and do what I liked. I never really thought before about how it’s not the same without people.
And that’s kind of it, that’s really all I wanted to say. I feel very happy about this selection of images that I’ve chosen and again I realise in looking through them that I’m always thinking about why I do photography and what does it mean?
Well a lot of the time, whilst it’s consciously about capturing moments and capturing things that remind me of feeling tones, and capturing slices of life, it’s also a reminder that people are part of life. People are part of my life, and even on lockdown where the number of people I see is dramatically reduced, people are still there somewhere.
I’ll finish up here with these images that I took the other evening with my cameraphone as I was out on an exercise walk. I liked what this shopfront had done with their enforced closedown, and I hope you will agree that whilst we do have to stay at home for the time being, there is hope and there is still the occasional photographic moment out there.