Ingrid and I are now on day twenty of lockdown, and day thirty of self-isolation, with enormously mixed feelings. Perhaps it is appropriate that it is Sunday.
First, we are thankful. We live in the countryside, and comparing our situation with so many others, we are so very lucky. We have huge empathy with people that are really struggling, socially, family-wise and economically. Fortunately, our closest friends and family have not yet been struck down by COVID-19, anywhere in the world. Let’s hope that is not tempting fate.
Secondly, we are hugely grateful for the efforts of everyone. This includes all of the caring and professional NHS staff, care workers (including those looking after our Mums in the UK and the Netherlands), delivery drivers, council workers, post office workers, supermarket employees and indeed the community at large for following the rules.
Thirdly, we are deeply sad (and angry) at the death toll and how it is presented. The UK now seems to have amongst the worst outbreaks in Europe, however you massage the numbers. The daily announcement is awful, both for those that have lost loved ones, and also for everyone else who must just feel helpless watching things unfold in real time. And still Johnson makes the headlines.
Fourthly, we are frustrated. We’ve all become either armchair epidemiologists or ostriches – either devouring the news or steadfastly ignoring it. Our Government seems to be trying to do the right things, though many urged action before. We have watched every daily press conference. Yet even when the plans seem right, they are continually presented with political spin. Sorting out the truth is hard. Maybe we should all become ostriches?
Fifth, I am still trying to be creative. I have been chronicling events in my own way, though sometimes the willpower to keep going is hard to muster. There is an interesting new group on Facebook – Photography Under Confinement. The group definition explains the mission:
‘This is group for photographers who are devoted to showing up for the mundane, tragic, funny and profound experience of living under quarantine. It is global and it is intimate; massive and isolated: political and personal – all at once. We want people to take risks, find solace, laugh or do whatever you need to do to stay creative. Given the narrower parameters of our work, I can imagine that the boundaries between street, documentary and family photography may blur. That is okay’.
The focus of many photographers not surprisingly is on daily events, often ‘on the street’ or at home, and sometimes with powerful, emotive personal events such as family death. This will provide an important chronicle, as all photos are time and geo tagged. I can also imagine that daily photography is both a much needed creative and cathartic act.
Photography under isolation is hard, though there are excellent photojournalists working, such as Peter Turnley. See some of his coverage of New York.
Still, I think that there must be other ways to cover the pandemic than pictures of empty streets or hard pressed citizens, and the fast-evolving news timeline is one way to think about the challenges. In combining photographs and daily headlines I hope, eventually, to create a political narrative.
Yet, there is also huge self-doubt. I have long used social media to share things, perhaps to the annoyance of others, even though my following has grown a lot recently. I am always careful to check sources, wanting to focus on facts not opinion. And I have always been open to debate and disagreement. Too often now, though, I hear ‘they are doing their best and you should just support them (implication – shut up)’. Or, ‘it’s easy to criticise, no one could have foreseen things’ (implication – shut up). On the other hand, I also hear ‘Government can do no right’ (implication – shut up).
What happened to the debate in the middle? What happened to critical analysis? What happened to learning from the past? At what point do concerned citizens just give up and focus on themselves?
All this comes into sharp focus when I read an account this morning in the Byeline Times. It chronicles events since 2016’s Exercise Cygnus. I don’t like the headline, as it’s too inflammatory, but the timeline rings true.
I was unsure about sharing it, but anyway, here goes. Make your own minds up. I await being told to ‘shut up’.