IAP A5: background, research and process

Background

The announcement on Friday 20 March of lockdown measures to be implemented as of Monday 23 March brought a sudden and most remarkable change to every aspect of daily life. It’s already difficult now to appreciate quite how dramatic the change was, and how scrupulously everyone, almost without exception, followed the guidelines in the weeks that followed. Public spaces were deserted, traffic was virtually non-existent and the overwhelming majority of people seemed to be sticking to the guidelines of emerging from their homes only for “essential” reasons and the permitted hour of daily exercise.

Here in Brighton, police patrolled the beaches, moving anyone on who dared to sit or lie down. I was nervous about taking my camera out on my daily walks in case I was challenged about the “non-essential” nature of my activity, so I often used my phone camera instead. I was acutely aware that these were extraordinary times, and aimed to record images falling into two broad categories: those that captured sights that were specific to the experience of lockdown (signs of the time), and those that reflected the sense of isolation that lockdown brought to many, myself included, and/or were symbolic of the mood of foreboding that permeated the fabric of life at the time.

Research

For this project I didn’t do any specific research because I wanted the series to be an attempt to tap as directly as possible into my own responses to this once-in-a-lifetime situation and didn’t want those responses to be mediated by a conscious or unconscious emulation of other people’s work. I wanted it to be a visceral response to the experience of lockdown, and focused on looking around me for signs and symbols that tapped into what I was experiencing at a gut level.

Process

I began the project on 30 March and shot more than 750 images for it over the next month and a half, during which time there was a slow rise in the amount of activity in public spaces and a gradual increase in the amount of traffic on the roads, but both remained well below normal levels for the time of year. Each day I went through all the images I’d shot that day, shortlisting and processing those that I deemed to be suitable candidates for potential inclusion in the final edit. I felt that it was important to do this as I went along, so that the selected images would be a running commentary of my impressions and experiences at the time, and not a retrospective view compiled later.

From these shortlisted images I also made an ever-changing “final edit”, and as this progressed it became clear to me that I was more interested in the images that spoke to my subjective experience of lockdown than those that captured the signs of the time, which by then were becoming ubiquitous and increasingly less interesting as a result. Almost certainly there will come a time when they’ll seem more interesting again, when the coronavirus experience is a distant memory (if indeed that ever transpires), but for now I have mothballed nearly all of that category.

On Thursday 7 May, with a sunny bank holiday weekend ahead, Boris Johnson intimated that lockdown restrictions would be made less onerous as of the following week. This led to an immediate return to normal levels of activity in public spaces and on the roads, at least here in Brighton. Apart from the residual signage and a few people wearing masks, there was no real indication that lockdown had ever taken place. I continued to make photos for this series over the next week, but on 14 May I decided that the lockdown experience I was aiming to record had unequivocally ended, and my final image was taken that day.