IAP A5: summary for assessment

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

I wanted the series 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 conscious or unconscious emulation of other people’s work. But the only way it would have been possible to avoid seeing other people’s responses would have been to avoid all forms of media, and like many people I actually did the opposite and exposed myself to a continuous stream of interpretations and expressions of the experience emanating from news and social media as well as specific photography-related sources. These included Annie Liebovitz’s Still Life, Alice Zoo’s Spring, Viktoria Sorochinski’s lockdown self-portraits, George Selley’s lockdown landscapes, Dougie Wallace’s images of supermarket shoppers, Michelle Sank’s portraits of people taking their lockdown exercise, and Nadav Kander’s response to isolation.

Process

I began the project on 30 March and shot more than 750 images 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 I deemed to be suitable candidates for potential inclusion in the final edit. I felt 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.

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 was over, and my final image was taken that day.

As the project had progressed it had gradually become 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 in the public arena, which were becoming increasingly ubiquitous and consequently less interesting. Despite this, the 14 images I submitted to my tutor for feedback were divided 50:50 between personal and public depictions. He highlighted the fact that my final edit included two distinct narrative strands – one located in the public space and the other in the personal – and that there was no sense of connection or consistency between the two. He recommended that I focus solely on the personal, concentrating on images that show my personal experience of lockdown and/or externalise the way I experienced it internally.

This gave me the clear sense of direction I had struggled so hard to find, and I now re-edited from scratch, a task that was infinitely easier now that my intended output was precisely defined. The outcome is clearly a significant improvement on my original submission and says much more about the practical and emotional experience of lockdown than the original edit.

Presentation

I feel that this series demands a minimalistic no-frills presentation to reflect the sparseness that has been seen across visual media during this time as we’ve become accustomed to seeing everything from meetings to yoga classes to news broadcasts and tv programmes via Zoom from makeshift studios. It therefore seems appropriate to present the series as digital images, and in a studio setting I would make these as large as possible, perhaps even life-size.