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
 

Mark Gillham

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