Photographers love a challenge and what better than an opportunity to document the impact of a world-wide pandemic that dramatically changes the way we live? Restrictions in place, such as stopping travel, people socialising and events of course heighten the challenge to produce interesting, high impact pictures.

Life in lockdown is being recorded across the world by professionals and amateurs. Establishment bodies such as the British Journal of Photography and Historic England are commissioning and presenting lockdown images, as are media outlets from Paris to Cruden Bay in Aberdeenshire. On social media every man, woman, child and their dog (and dinner!) are being presented for viewing. The Internet is full of advice on how to take better lockdown photos and competitions and projects are being promoted by temporarily closed museums and galleries (such as the National Portrait Gallery, with royal patronage) keen to keep up interest in their organisations at this time. That great photographic documenter of British life, Martin Parr, popped up on TV on Grayson Perry’s Channel 4 Art Club giving advice on taking good photos of socially distanced queues (what else?) amongst other things.

Here at Queen Margaret University (QMU), a class of Media Communication and Performing Arts (MPCA) students on a practical photography module were working towards their final project just as the pandemic hit. Some had taken their photos nice and early, before restrictions started, but many had their plans scuppered by the sudden changes in where we could go, and who they could be near. They found that much careful pre-production planning was now useless. They couldn’t go where they planned or use models who had agreed to help them. While some had their own equipment, many were now unable to borrow University cameras, lenses or lights, or use the studio. Several had to make quick decisions about travelling home and others needed to self-isolate in their Edinburgh flats for several weeks. While most of us were ‘allowed out’ for limited exercise and essential shopping, students were advised not to go out taking photos in the city at this stage of lockdown. To top it all, this was assessed work required to meeting learning objectives and assessment criteria with a formal submission date.

With great ingenuity and creativity the students found solutions to these difficulties. Carefully selected models had to be replaced by whoever was available, family, partner, house mate or just themselves. Locations became restricted to house and garden, or a few rooms in a flat. Some explored virtual worlds and the photographic opportunities presented in them. Others managed to use avoid people and focus on the natural world to express their feelings. As always in student projects, a great variety of styles and themes emerged from the creativity of our students.

Here is work produced by MPCA students for their projects, presented by themes or styles of photography. The students are from undergraduate programmes in Film & Media, Drama & Performance and Theatre & Film.

Anxiety

Louise and Alexandra chose to express their feelings at this time, of anxiety and disorientation. Louise wrote

“The current lockdown... (has) provided a backdrop to the fear and anxiety I wanted to tap into around quarantine and isolation. I could not help but feel these emotions through my images”.

Inspired by macro film maker and photographer F. Percy Smith and others, she aimed to capture the beauty of nature up close but in a dark and disturbing setting.

Alexandra’s project Vertigo aimed to explore her feeling of powerlessness and fear of fainting in the context of anxiety surrounding the pandemic. 

Louise Duncan: It's a small - sad - world after all
A small white flower
A dark tree bark
A dark flower stem

 

Alexandra Pearson: Vertigo
A town spinning at speed
A bare tree spinning at speed
Trees spinning at speed
Yellow flowers spinning at speed

 

Isolation - the new normal

Michaela and Jordi both recorded their living situation in traditional documentary style images. Michaela went home to rural Ireland where she was able to be with her family while Jordi was confined to his Edinburgh flat due to possible Covid 19 symptoms. Michaela experienced a close time with her family which at times seemed like a long stay-at-home holiday. She has recorded her siblings at work and play as well as the new type of distanced contact we have all experienced with friends and neighbours. Jordi’s world was much more geographically limited for the duration of the project, so he had look at the detail of his environment for inspiration.  

Michaela Mccarthy: Social Distancing - The New Normal
A family standing at a gate
A man waving through a window
A woman playing the piano
A woman reading a book in her pyjamas
Two people playing with a green ball on a sunny day
A woman playing on a trampoline
A girl drawing a colourful picture
A young boy writing in a jotter
Two young women talking at sunset
Two people walking along a country lane at sunset

 

Jordi Steel: Self Isolation
A man taking a picture of himself in the mirror
A black and white picture of a kitchen
A close up picture of a dripping tap
A selection of jars and tins on a shelf
A selection of noodle packets

 

Virtual worlds

While many businesses are closed and fearful for their future, much of the tech sector is experiencing unprecedented growth at this time. This is true of online video gaming with current and future significant market growth reported and predicted. For many, solace and distraction has been found in the immersive nature of videogames. Reni and Anton chose to explore two of their favourite video games as photographers. These open-world games allow players to mimic real-world photographers by adjusting the framing, brightness and exposure, and applying filters, and some also incorporate photography tasks as part of the game play. There is a stark contrast between the style of games used by the two, with Reni playing Nintendo’s Animal Crossing while Anton entered the darker world of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V.

Using Animal Crossing, christened ‘Game for the Coronavirus Moment’ by the New York Times, Reni created her own island called Solace where she felt she could “regain some semblance of control over one’s life”. Her project also allows the expression of some of her fears about the current crisis. Anton’s original project involved ‘real’ street photography. He swapped the relative calm of Edinburgh for the mean streets of the fictional Los Santos to convey his Covid-19 inspired expression of the “nihilistic satire of late-stage capitalism in western societies”. The images are visually influenced by the work of conceptual artists Barbara Kruger and John Baldessari.

Reni Mackintosh: Finding Solace in Quarantine
A screenshot from Animal Crossing with the caption 'Stay 2 metres away from other people at all times if you go out'
A screenshot of Animal Crossing with the caption 'The rists of such a gathering combined with the absenses due to illness or family obligations made it impossible to have a fitting and suitable graduation celebration'
Animal Crossing screenshot with the caption 'Only take one form of exercise a day'
A screenshot from Animal Crossing with the caption 'Fearing coronavirus, Arizona man dies after taking a form of chloroquine used to treat aquariums'

 

Anton Winters: buht.ER.flah.IES
A black and white shot of a train station
Two people on a train platform with the caption 'I just want to close my eyes and feel ok'
Someone walking down the street from above, with the caption '9 to 5 zombies'
Two people standing with the caption 'Discounted Extroverts'

 

Portraiture and fashion

In the final three portfolios are studio portraits, where the students have shown creativity in utilising the limited space of their own accommodation as home-made studios, and available personnel. Kaitlin, a fashionista and skilled set designer, produced a set of stylish images aimed as promotional material for a fashion house. She had to use her phone and homemade studio, and act as stylist, model and photographer. Allan had the benefit of his partner as his model in his set of romantic images entitled My best friend. Rohana’s The Garden of People art project aimed to encourage the viewers’ imagination and see flowers as people (or perhaps people as flowers?). She wanted to show how, much like humans, flowers come in large varieties, and encourage us to reflect on how we base our opinions and understanding of people through using shape, pose, tone and colour.

Kaitlin Mccoo: Locked-down Loungewear
A stylish woman posing with a beret
A stylish woman posing with a silk headscarf
A stylish woman posing in pyjamas
A stylish woman posing with her bag
A stylish woman posing with pink sunglasses
A woman posing with a bag balancing on her back

 

Allan Paterson: My best friend
A woman posing with fairy lights in her hair
A woman posing with fairy lights

 

Rohana Farooqui: The Garden of People
A woman posing with orange flowers
A woman posing with yellow flowers
A woman posing with pink flowers
A woman posing with white flowers
A woman posing with red flowers

Mark Gillham

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