Participants involved in a photography project have created a photographic archive of contemporary life during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The New Parameters project involved reflecting on the history of Northern Ireland as recorded through photography before empowering people to capture their own surroundings and life during lockdown.
Participants drew inspiration from the work of acclaimed Photojournalist Bill Kirk, whose work’s focuses on documenting the communities of Northern Ireland. Bill was interviewed and discussed the similarities he felt between today’s restrictions and our history, which has been dominated by borders, precincts and surveillance.
Celebrated photographer Christopher Barr acted as a mentor, leading an online master class and providing feedback on submitted imagery. Participants also had the opportunity to explore the extensive photography collections at National Museums NI.
Over the course of four weeks, the group came together to share photographs and stories from their time in lockdown, touching on themes such as community spirit, impact on mental health and issues affecting the elderly and vulnerable.
Shauna McGowan, Community Engagement Officer with National Museums NI, said: "The idea for New Parameters came about as the team discussed how life felt during lockdown and touching on our new restrictions, surveillance and feelings of isolation. We wanted to inspire and empower our participants with new photography skills, enabling them to document this significant moment in our history from their own perspective."
Sheila captured the restrictions of lockdown in her photography - play parks closed to children, households in isolation and social distancing restrictions. Contrasting this she documented society as small restrictions began to ease capturing friends chatting from a distance and warm retail workers welcoming customers back in store.
Gwen captured the generosity of neighbours and community spirit reflected in her doorstep offerings series, showing gifts such as cheesecake, eggs and homemade jam she received from kind neighbours. Gwen shone a light on those working hard within her community. She captured Diane, her local postal worker. “She's doing an incredible job and is as lovely and cheerful as ever even though she's run off her feet,” and Judith, ”One of the superheroes who have been caring for my mother-in-law since she moved in with us at the beginning of the lockdown.”
Biddy’s photography captured “the realities of my family life, my mum very content, my husband not loving shopping ” during lockdown. Her series featured a striking May Altar, showing the family’s medicine and food supplies to sustain them during lockdown. Biddy also documented her sleeping son, which she titled ‘GCSE Candidate’ and captured new shopping rituals.
Exploring the impact of lockdown for the vulnerable in our society, Steph created a body of work called Cocoon of Nature. “To be amongst nature is vital for our well-being, but it is nature that is keeping us in lockdown. Elderly and vulnerable are shielded, unable to leave their homes, the consequences of isolation are unthinkable, loneliness, depression, anxiety and confusion. The collages represent the reality of what is happening in the outside world and in contrast the inside world of those in lockdown. I printed the images as postcards to post, I felt it important to give each image a title taken from Covid articles, such as restricted from the world, their life is on hold, a prison. They give meaning and remind us that the vulnerable have meaning too and should not be the forgotten ones in our society."
The theme of Jacqueline’s work is ‘life finds a way’. Her photographs offer us a vibrant insight into her local community and life to include a self-portrait of Jacqueline litter picking on the Greenway. Jean and her budgie Sky Cloud have lived in Jacqueline’s street for a year and it was only during lockdown that they had their first opportunity to speak. Documenting her local ‘lemonade man’ brought back childhood memories. This lemonade man revealed he has been in business for 30 years and has been doing 12-hour days to serve his community during lockdown.
Becoming a grandmother for the first time to twins during lockdown, Chris documented her preparations as she made towelling for her grandchildren. Chris shared insights from her daily country walk, which captured the ongoing cycle of farming life with lambs and calves being born and slurry being spread.
Benén has been living in Belfast during lockdown in an urban area, leading him to seek out and explore local green spaces. “I’ve been making 'magical realist' collages of nature that I have been exploring on my daily exercise, seeking out opportunities to make pictures of sunlight coming into nature.” Benén has created a series of video work and photographic stills to reflect his journeys into nature.
Graeme struck on a powerful theme exploring new social distancing guidelines on his local walkway. “My initial idea was to try a recreate the look of the 'Hands Across the Divide' peace statue in Derry as a way to try and link the idea of people trying to come together in NI's past with today’s New Parameters of having to keep apart.” Along with this Graeme captured new shopping rituals such as post shopping paranoia, the process of cleaning everything to ensure it is safe. He captured a contrasting image showing front line workers renewing road markings with a hearse in the background. “The sight of these hearses became so horribly regular each day for many many weeks passing by my window on the way to Roselawn Cemetery.”
Following medical advice to shield, Chris used his photography to share an insight into his home life during lockdown. Chris has a passion for natural, un-staged photography and used it to capture haircuts and games at home. “My Fiancée Lauren and I playing badminton in the living room, because we felt guilty that the neighbour had to keep through it back over the fence because we're terrible at it.” Chris noticed new details in life during lockdown reflected in his photography. “In the two years of owning our dog, we never knew how much he disliked birds, and capturing him chasing one away just makes me laugh.”
“I took the theme of public lockdown vs. private lockdown, particularly the challenges the situation has thrown up in terms of mental health. It was great seeing the various rainbows in windows on my daily walks. At home, it's fair to say that there was a fair few glasses of wine and G&Ts for the first few weeks before the list of DIY and gardening jobs was drawn up. I have depression and an eating disorder so the lockdown has been incredibly challenging for me in terms of mental health so my private lockdown includes me trying to keep doing my 'homework' (and you might spot my favourite mug!) and the final shot was taken one night as I was very upset at not being able to hug my elderly parents so my husband came to the rescue.”
Having isolated with his wife and mother in law who is cocooning due to ill health, James used his daily walks to document moments of rest and reflection within nature capturing birds and landscapes. James sought out signs of the virus in his community by capturing images of overgrown playing fields and disregarded PPE.
As a Visual Artist, Karen was inspired by a photo in a box that she discovered within the Museum’s collection from the 1700s. “As a fine artist I also love the raw in both photography and in Printmaking and I see a lot going on here that I didn’t expect. I see isolation, religion, you and me, my shopping bags, my home studio, hand clapping.” These are concepts Karen is exploring in her photography with a view to creating final pieces that combine layers, abstract and text reflecting how is drawn to books and boxes.
“I wanted to explore the theme of children in lockdown, children coping with extreme environment, as I have always been amazed by the pictures of playing children 'getting on with it' from the Troubles. Children have amazing coping mechanisms to have fun and be playful in their environment, regardless how us adults react." Stanislava photograph’s capture important family stories during lockdown. She captured a photograph of husband and daughter under the Foyle Bridge in Derry. “This image is very important to me - not only because it represents the father-daughter relationship, but also because I wanted to feature this amazing structure of civil engineering. Foyle Bridge connects, yet it is still used to acknowledge the division of the two sides of the city, representing the two communities.” Another touching image captures her daughter waiting at the windowsill, lined with hummus and cucumber sticks to welcome friends who she has invited to a BBQ when "the virus is gone".
“I’m working on the title ‘as a precaution’, as in what was told to the public when the Prime Minister was taken to hospital, again when he was admitted to intensive care, ‘sitting up and in good spirits’. When in actual fact his Consultant was preparing to break the news of his death. The rhetoric has continued throughout.”
“We had new language in use and new customs. Terms like 'social distancing' and 'clapping for the NHS on Thursdays, and the term 'Cocooning' for those vulnerable and the over 70s in the Republic. New food banks sprang up and were a big support to those who were in lockdown during this period. We adapted to a different way of keeping in touch online with Zoom, and to celebrating key events in our lives, like birthdays, family linkups and quizzes.”
As a business owner Heather used her project to document family life during lockdown. The experience gave the family time to slow down, spend time together and explore land close to home that they normally don’t have the opportunity to spend time in. “These images show me/us slowing down and looking more and appreciating more. Discovering places on my doorstep. Time is a great thing when you slow down and appreciate what you have just outside your front gate!"
Mary took us on a journey with her work 'Down the Bog and Up the Creggan responding to Covid 19'. Mary noted how quiet the area was with no cars, tourists or tour buses. She was interested to see how the murals had changed reflecting themes of Covid 19. Mary included herself against a mural, as a fighter against Covid.
Alice has been establishing themes for her daily walks and photographs to include barriers and workers. She reflected that everyday could feel like a Sunday during lockdown, with very little traffic and nothing open. One of her favourite images features a lone walker and a tower. “For me this image represents how I feel about these times, with the tower looming over us (Covid-19) the man, how small and inconsequential we are in relation to Covid-19 and the roads leading to Covid-19 head on or a choice to swerve off to the left, for me isolating.”
“After the initial fear and dread of Covid we settled into our lockdown cocoon. Attempting projects that had been put on 'the long finger'. Coming to terms with all the places that were closed to us. Following the advice we were given. The quietness of it all and of course somethings never change, even in lockdown.”
Michael has been using Fuji instax instants from a lomo instant during his project exploring how lockdown is affecting him. Michael has documented himself sitting outside his favourite cafes, which are closed. “My favourite cafes. I'm missing them.”