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  • Articles by Sonali

    The Power of the Still Image: Inspiration for Photo series during Covid-19 Pandemic


    Four award-winning photographers who each chose to document the Covid-19 Pandemic and the ensuing lockdown discussed their work at an online event hosted by the Frontline Club on 4 February 2021. The photographs reveal their individual styles but they all share the same aspiration: to use their pictures to build empathy.

    Julia Fullerton-Batten

    Julia Fullerton-Batten’s work projects were cancelled because of the Pandemic but she felt compelled to record events. She put out an ad in her local community in West London inviting people to be photographed in their own homes from the outdoors in a series of pictures called ‘Looking out from within’. There was a big response to the advert given she was a professional photographer. She ended up photographing a wide variety of people. She noticed that people were looking quite forlornly out of their windows.

    The photographs were staged in line with her cinematic style. Preparation and research was done in advance by email in terms of setting up the scenes and determining which window to use. There were discussions on what the subjects would wear; she provided clothes and would bring props. If she found an interesting location she would put a note through the letter box. During lockdown the photographs often had to be lit up from outdoors (with help from her son). Some of the pictures were taken at twilight taking advantage of illumination from streetlights.

    The subjects were asked to sign a model release form providing permission for their picture to be published but, in truth, the photo-shoot was the highlight of their day for some of them, breaking up the monotony of lockdown. Fullerton-Batten learned how the community was united and helped each other. There was a WhatsApp group set up within a week on her street. She hopes to get a book of the photographs published.

    Fabio Bucciarelli 

    The photographs were taken in the last 2 weeks in March 2020 in Italy during the first wave of the pandemic. Bucciarelli, a documentary photographer, was back at home in Italy when his work projects were cancelled. Italy became ground zero: there were photographs of the empty streets but Bucciarelli noticed the human story was missing.

    He contacted the Red Cross in a small village near Bergamot epicentre and was permitted to follow them by car on call outs to the homes of Covid victims. He contacted the families in advance to get a press release signed off. The virus was an unknown entity and strict measures were taken to avoid transmitting it. When working in hospitals he wore a full body suit, goggles, double gloves, mask, and sanitised his equipment. He didn’t contract the virus.

    Bucciarelli took pictures of emergency rooms in Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in Bergamot and he was alarmed by the sense of devastation in the hospital wards. Italy was the first country hit in Europe and the pictures depict the chaos and lack of preparedness in the early days. 

    These are scenes of personal tragedy but the pictures are taken from a respectful distance. They are evocative of religious frescoes by Giotto from the early Renaissance in terms of their sculptural forms, subdued atmosphere and pastel colours (ultramarine blue, pink and sandstone yellow).

    Bucciarelli spent 2020 covering the Covid story for the New York Times returning to the same locations. He revisited Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital in early 2021 and the situation was under control. He has accumulated a massive body of work and is thinking of publishing a book and putting together an exhibition of the pictures.

    Alys Tomlinson  - Lost Summer

    Alys Tomlinson’s work projects in Europe were cancelled. Tomlinson wanted to document the lockdown experience from a teenager’s perspective. The Lost Summer series of photographs, taken over a period of 12 weeks from June – August 2020, consists of fourty-four portraits of teenagers who were unable to complete exams and had their summer school leaver's proms cancelled due to Covid-19.

    Proms are an US export signifying a liminal space between childhood and adulthood. In 2020 these school kids missed out this. Their aspirations and ambitions were stolen from them and had to be reassessed.

    Tomlinson got in touch with kids of friends who in turn contacted their classmates etc. There was no casting or styling. She ended up photographing a diverse mix of teenagers from her local area of Hackney, North London. The idea was to recreate the idea of going to a prom and the school kids turned up in what they would have worn to the event.  A large plate camera was used which was a slow process and Tomlinson built up a rapport with them.

    She was going to photograph the kids in their own homes but was aware this would highlight their socio economic background. Instead Tomlinson decided to photograph them in open democratic spaces. These were the spaces that we used in lockdown. In the pictures her subjects are framed by the landscape, leaves, walls, trees and their inner world and psychology of person is merged with the outer world.

    The quiet, still pictures capture their strength, resilience and sometimes vulnerability. For instance, the picture of Samuel has a sense of his apprehension. The pictures were shot in black and white giving them a timelessness and simplicity, they don’t identify a specific era. Colour would be a distraction. They capture a moment in time.  

    Tomlinson has published a book. She learnt that you don’t need travel to far flung places to find a story. She rediscovered an area that she has lived in for the last 15 years  and she enjoyed working with the teenagers, who, although bored and listless, were able to adapt to the situation.  

    Ismail Ferdous

    Ismail Ferdous’s photographs record the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States. Ferdous was in New York when the Covid situation escalated quickly in March 2020. He was due to fly to London but New York City went into lockdown and flights were cancelled. There was much uncertainty around the virus in terms of appropriate safety measures. Face masks were not mandatory until mid-April.

    Ferdous said it was an extraordinary time to be in New York. On 27 March he noticed he couldn’t smell his morning coffee. He had contracted the virus. His life was confined to his block in Manhattan where he recovered in quarantine.

    He felt better by the end of May which was when the Black Lives Matter protests gained momentum in response to the George Floyd killing. He had never seen anything like it before on that scale. The New York City Police Department were charging at the Press. Ferdous hails from Bangladesh where there is no free press but, in reality, the situation was not much better in the US. Ferdous thinks his pictures carry a different perspective based on his position as an outsider in New York.

     

     


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