As the coronavirus took hold earlier this year I don’t think any of us envisaged the impact that it would have on our lives and the country more broadly. Watching the media reports of Italy and Spain struggling to cope with rising infection rates and hospital admissions – plunging their respective societies into lockdown – I wondered when the UK would follow. It wasn’t long – the UK lockdown was officially announced by the Prime Minister on 23rd March. An eerie silence and sense of concern descended upon the country.
It dawned on me the shifts we were about to see – no social contact, many of us home schooling and working from home. A society and economy effectively shut – healthcare first as the virus threatened to overwhelm our NHS.
This nagged at me a little – yes I would keep on working and doing what I could but socially how did I fill the gap in such difficult and strange circumstances? I knew it wouldn’t be healthy for me just to work and live at home. I’d thrived on the variety of my work over the previous two years – the locations, the commute, the people and the different mediums of contact – there had to be something else to just a merger of work and home.
I had been a keen photographer for about 10 years, learning as I went. My style of photography based on capturing what I saw in the moment. Often the photography would revolve around an event or a holiday – posting to Facebook for friends and family. I’d even taken photography into my recent Organisational Development studies using photography as a visual representation of learning rather than a traditional written paper. I knew photography helped me relax and find a creative outlet.
I started to wonder. Could I do something creative with my photography that would challenge my notion of work and home? Could I use it to help me fill the voids of variety and social contact? Could it help my peace of mind to lose myself in photography for a while? Could it help others in these difficult times? Could I create a record of how coronavirus affected a ‘normal’ family’s life and would that be of interest to others? I dipped my toe in the water.
The recent panic buying had seen hand gel sell out everywhere but we’d managed to buy a couple of bottles. Emboldened by a glass a wine I took a photo of the hand gel and committed to Facebook that I would be taking a photo every day trying to capture a little of life at home and the country more broadly - Day 0 of my ‘Corona Virus Photography Challenge’. The encouragement I got from the initial photo and post was heartening – positive and warm comments flowed and maybe I had captured the mood appropriately.
I won’t go through every day of the challenge and the photos that I took but I do want to reflect a little on what I think the ‘Corona Virus Photo Challenge’ meant to me and to others. A few of the images are included in this post; if you wish to take a look at more photos then they are all public on my Facebook page with associated commentary.
So what did this challenge mean to me? I guess I’ve never considered myself overly creative in a traditional sense. I’m not at all artistic, struggling to draw a matchstick man, nor am I musical – indeed tone deaf may be a better description but I do have an outlook that tries to see a little of the difference, joy and variety in the world. My photography helps me capture that and provides space for me to relax and interact with my surroundings. It helps with my own wellbeing and allows me to unwind.
Pushing myself to take and share a photo every day provided focus for me personally in the pandemic. A welcome distraction when the whole of our lives were dominated by difficult news and dreadful circumstances – the changes understandably overwhelming for some. Focusing on a photo every day calmed me and gave me an outlet in the confines of office, home life and exercise all being constrained to the immediate surroundings. I simply felt better for it – it kept my outlook and wellbeing healthy.
Not only that, by posting to Facebook every day it allowed me to gain social interaction with friends and family cut off to me by the circumstances of the pandemic. Connections and encouragement being essential to the daily task of simply taking a photo. Feedback flowed – people commented on how they liked the photo or how it mirrored their own experience of the pandemic or how they just liked the fact that someone was posting on a daily basis and giving a simple insight into how CV-19 had affected us all. I would like to think that the photo challenge not only had a positive impact on my wellbeing but on those that followed my challenge. Maybe, just a little bit, it helped others through such strange times. It’s amazing what a photo of Joe Wicks, or a Zoom Call or home schooling means to us all now as we look back.
Alongside the wellbeing and interaction of the photography challenge I would have to say that my technical photography skills improved. Pushed on by friends’ comments – their challenges around Astro Photography, capturing the Blood Moon – and my own drive (the village church of Stoke Golding being the one photo I just knew I had to get) I attempted techniques outside of my immediate knowledge and comfort zone. Long exposures to capture the movement of stars, focus stacking to capture the minutia of detail in an orchid and ridiculously fast shutter speeds to freeze action of bouncing balls in a glass or my daughter doing the splits on a trampoline. Throughout the entire 105 days that I ran the challenge every aspect of my skill and camera were explored – it was simply satisfying and I admit occasionally a little stressful!! Learning feels good – even for an ageing bloke like me.
My final photograph was on the 5th of July and whilst we are still far from any kind of normality this was the weekend of the pubs, shops and hairdressers opening again. However we liked to look at it – some form of new normal had descended upon us and it felt appropriate that I stop. I had gone further with the challenge than I ever envisaged and it had helped bridge the now blurred boundaries between home and work. I got some lovely comments from people when I drew the challenge to a close. They all touched me:
“Despite a very difficult personal experience of this pandemic and loss your pictures have been a source of joy”
“I really enjoyed the journey Ian. Thought it captured the time and mood brilliantly”
“It’s been therapeutic to wait for and check out your daily post these last 3 months….”
“Ian, I’ve looked forward to each daily update and have been impressed with the variety and inspiration as well as providing a lovely insight on Lockdown Life…..”
So as those of us in England now grapple with the new reality of “restrictions to six” – where now for my wellbeing and photography? There are a couple of things I will be exploring. I’m looking to pull together a 2021 calendar of the best of the photos and selling these for a small charitable donation. I think that will keep me occupied through October and November and be a welcome distraction in what continues to be a strange world. I’m also tempted to enact a 12 days of Christmas challenge – sharing a little of the joy that Christmas brings whilst exploring its undoubted difference for 2020. Maybe one or two of you will join me on that creative journey and perhaps I’ll expand my own horizons to posting to Twitter and Instagram?