Lockdown in pictures: ten photographs that document an extraordinary year

26 March will mark one year since the UK first went into lockdown. To reflect on a momentous year, we asked ten photographers to contribute images that summarise their experience.

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Next week, on 23 March, it will be one year since Boris Johnson announced that the UK would be going into lockdown three days later, ordering people to “stay at home”. Looking back on that day now, the world feels an inordinately different place. Our understanding of the pandemic and the effect it would go on to have on our lives at the time was, in hindsight, naive and limited. It’s hard to believe that we thought it would “all be over” by Easter 2020.

Since its invention, photography has always been a key tool for bearing witness to and creating a record of important times in human history and, needless to say, we are living through one. To reflect on what has been a year of adjustment and, for many, loss, we asked ten photographers from across the UK – Cian Oba-Smith, Chris Hoare, Rinchen Ato, Vic Lentaigne, Hollie Fernando, Adama Jalloh, Fergus Coyle, Ryan Price, Izzy Leach and Hidhir Badaruddin – to contribute one image they have taken at some point during lockdown over the past year.

The responses range from those which look outward, documenting a changed environment, to those which are more introspective and personal, showing family or friends. Together they form a record of the past 12 months, touching on themes of isolation and grief but also community, love and hope. As we move slowly but surely along the PM’s “roadmap” towards a time when we can all reconnect, these images will become an all-the-more-important reminder of one of the strangest and most difficult years many have ever experienced.

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Cian Oba-Smith: Regent Street, rush hour on a Friday, April, 2020. From the series A Quiet Prayer. (Copyright © Cian Oba-Smith, 2020)

Cian Oba-Smith, London

I took this image during the first lockdown in London, on Regent Street on a Friday afternoon during rush hour. I was wary of making work in central London because I didn’t want to create images that represented a cliché perception of London. However, I felt it was important to show the stark contrast between normality in London and the new reality of what the city had become whilst navigating the effects of the pandemic. This image was part of a wider series that looked at the effect of Covid-19 on me personally, my local community and the wider effect on London as a whole. To me, this image represents the nuance and duality of how Covid-19 has impacted society. The pandemic has created so many contrasting layers of feelings in everyone. For all it has been a lonely experience, for most, it has been a year of struggle, and for some it has been a year of loss.

“I felt it was important to show the stark contrast between normality in London and the new reality of what the city had become.”

Cian Oba-Smith
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Chris Hoare: Tina on Bonfire Night, from Growing Spaces (RRBPhotobooks), Bristol, November 2020. (Copyright © Chris Hoare, 2020)

Chris Hoare, Bristol

This photograph is a record of a situation that moved me. It was taken on Bonfire Night and it is of an elderly woman named Tina. Tina lost her husband in March due to him contracting Covid-19 in a hospital, just after coming home from Jamaica. Their allotment was something they shared together for over 30 years; this year she was forced to keep on top of it herself.

Over the past year, I was commissioned to make work on and around allotments for Bristol Photo Festival. It made me pay attention to the seasons like never before, as I was conscious of capturing the seasonal changes that take place. I realise that I was fortunate to have this opportunity, not just so that I could create a photographic project, but for the time I was able to spend outdoors in nature. Nothing calls our attention to life and death more than nature itself.

After having talked to Tina about her loss and then photographing her as she marked the end of the growing season with a fire, it reminded me of the circle that we are all in and how nature is ultimately in control of our destiny.

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Hollie Fernando: Blu and Buttercups, from the series Take A Hike. June, 2020 (Copyright © Hollie Fernando, 2020)

Hollie Fernando, Brighton

My one walk a day during lockdown became a huge coping mechanism for me in looking after my mental health. I had just moved to Brighton from London a few months before the pandemic and felt very anxious and isolated being somewhere new and away from my family.

I started to explore the surrounding natural areas at the foot of our city to find my own feet. My friend, and wonderful stylist, Lottie Warren was living just down the coast with her parents at the time and we would leave our homes and meet in the middle for a socially-distanced picnic in a new and beautiful place each time. We would hit about 15-20 miles each hike.

When restrictions allowed us to meet a person from another household, we started to take friends on our hikes. I then started to bring my camera and Lottie would bring clothes (and we would always bring lunch). We started a project on our socially-distanced walks called Take A Hike, which is still ongoing. This photograph is of our beautiful friend Blu, on a gorgeous summer day somewhere in the middle of the South Downs.

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Rinchen Ato: Anyé & Singhé, May 2020 (Copyright © Rinchen Ato, 2020)

Rinchen Ato, Cambridge

We were living with my elderly parents when the UK went into lockdown. Unable to travel to Tibet as we had hoped to, I instead documented simple moments during those long, hot days living at my childhood home and found myself focusing on the precious relationship my boys have with my parents.

I shot ten-year-out-of-date film on my father’s old 35mm camera and, for the first time since university, I developed it myself. With that process, I was carried back to the darkrooms of my youth, the nerves of whether I had mixed the chemicals correctly, checking quantities and timings over and over again and that magic moment when the results are revealed.

These images are totally unlike the work I am known for, but to me, they are the most important photographs I’ve taken. The love captured in this image, my father’s hands holding my son in a quiet moment, is also him holding me and me holding my son. I know how lucky we were; for so many it was quite the opposite experience, and I will never forget those incredibly special days.

“I know how lucky we were, for so many it was quite the opposite experience, and I will never forget those incredibly special days.”

Rinchen Ato
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Vic Lentaigne: Jadah & Reva, London, June 2020 (Copyright © Vic Lentaigne, 2020)

Vic Lentaigne, London

This photograph is of my friends Jadah and Reva outside their home in northeast London. 

The image is part of a wider series of photographs that I shot over Pride month during the first lockdown. The series is about promoting lesbian visibility and giving an honest, intimate and celebratory voice to my community. For me, the fact that the image was shot on a doorstep from a distance is a pretty accurate summary of how the past year has been. We have been able to see those we love and miss at certain times but always with some kind of distance between us.

At the time it was shot, this image gave me a feeling of hope, strength and positivity; I believe you can feel the love that Jadah and Reva have for each other. Looking at the photo again now makes me feel quite emotional as everyone is missing their loved ones and we are all counting down the days till we can hopefully be together again. 

“At the time it was shot, this image gave me a feeling of hope, strength and positivity.”

Vic Lentaigne
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Adama Jalloh: Mum – Lockdown. April, 2020. (Copyright © Adama Jalloh, 2020)

Adama Jalloh, London

This image shows my mother in her bedroom saying her nightly prayers before she goes to bed. She converted back to Christianity a few years ago and includes daily prayers within her schedule. Her nightly prayers are often what echoes loudest in the house and usually the last thing I hear before going to bed.

During that period, the first few weeks of lockdown was intense and overwhelming for me. Despite living with family, there were still those moments of feeling alone with your thoughts and feelings, so hearing my mum praying made me understand aspects of her feeling heard and wanting a sense of belonging. This, alongside conversations with others, made me think more about finding methods that help or work for me during lockdown, whether that’s something simple as taking walks, voice noting to myself, listening to podcasts and more.

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Fergus Coyle: Housemates Polly and Boca in the garden, the day I moved out. Easton, Bristol. October 2020 (Copyright © Fergus Coyle, 2020)

Fergus Coyle, Bristol

I had just sold my house before the first lockdown and was renting a room whilst looking for the next suitable fixer-upper to purchase. The new house, situated a stone’s throw from St. Marks Rd in Easton, comprised of myself and a couple called Polly and Boca, who are both DJs. Its modest communal spaces often required a kind of dance around each other and we eventually reached some form of unspoken synchronicity.

Despite us being thrown into an unforeseen lockdown life together, we got along really well! On the day I moved out, to mark the occasion and to reflect on our shared experiences, I took Polly and Boca’s portrait in the garden. They received the image as a print for Christmas which is now up on the wall at 5 Chester Street.

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Ryan Prince: Untitled, from the series Can you Sit for me? March, 2020 (Copyright © Ryan Prince, 2020)

Ryan Prince, London

This is an image of my family: my younger brother, twin sisters and stepdad. I took this image as part of an ongoing project where I use photography to explore my relationship with my family, which is predominantly how I spent this last year. Living at home with my family during lockdown I was forced to slow down which led me to really think about my relationship with them, but not only that, to think about the role I play in my family, consciously and subconsciously.

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Izzy Leach: It’s Hard to See When You’re Looking Right at It, in collaboration with friend and artist Danna (@conkuntion), and assisted by Kim Ayres. October, 2020 (Copyright © Izzy Leach, 2020)

Izzy Leach, Glasgow

Moments of stillness and quiet conflict have permeated through my work over the last year of lockdown. This has certainly been influenced by frustration from our collective loss of freedom, and amplified by being at an early stage in my development as an artist, navigating my relationships to identity and career, while also sustaining the soul of the work.

In my photographs, I try to create scenes and, if possible, worlds that I’d like to inhabit in some way; whether it’s an idea of a place, a feeling or a historical reference. Making this image felt like letting the subconscious visions of women both watching and being looked at fill my reality in order to better understand my relationship with myself.

“Moments of stillness and quiet conflict have permeated through my work over the last year of lockdown.”

Izzy Leach
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Hidhir Badaruddin: An Afternoon In Battersea Park. May, 2020 (Copyright © Hidhir Badaruddin, 2020)

Hidhir Badaruddin, London

The is an image of Simone Casarotti, while we were in Battersea Park some time in May 2020.

During the peak of the pandemic, and with the restrictions of lockdown, parks were the go-to place for everyone to get fresh air and get their government-mandated daily walks in. The pandemic led to a lot of changes, one of which was Simone having to move in with me in Battersea. We’d been together for slightly over a year at this point, and this only made our relationship stronger − I mean, if you’ve gone through lockdown, months indoors with your partner and managed to come out of it sane, you can go through anything together!

Battersea Park is situated five minutes away from my flat, and it has truly been a blessing in disguise just being able to have our walks and enjoy the fresh air outside. Enjoying the simple pleasures we used to take for granted. In this photograph, with his mask on and the golden hour light from the sun shining upon him, it brings up memories of our many conversations about everything we hope to do and are looking forward to achieve after lockdown.

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

rbd@itsnicethat.com

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