On 16 March 2020, the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, said that social contact should cease due to a significant increase in cases of Covid-19. A few days later, on 23 March 2020, our Prime Minister Boris Johnson, told the country that we had to stay at home and some businesses had to close for an indefinite period - we were in lockdown.
After an initial period of fear and shock, a need for action kicked in. What could I do to help the RPS membership feel better? As the RPS Web Content Manager and a photographer for over thirty years, I decided to launch a competition on our website. The aim of this was to give people something to focus on and to to take their minds off the very stressful events taking place in the world around them.
Photography has always been like a form of mindfulness for me - when I do it I think of nothing else but what I can see through the lens - and I wanted to help others have that same sense of escapism. So I launched a picture a day competition, with one image a day from an RPS member being featured on our home page.
The themes had to be achievable with the parameters of lockdown and I was keen that this should be an international project with our membership across the world represented. The response was immediate and so rewarding. We had entries from Manchester to Madagascar and Bristol to Beijing. Many people entered (and are still entering) every week and I feel they have become friends during that period as we have taken this photographic journey together. I have had so many emails from people saying what the competition has meant to them. Some have said that they like the challenge or it brings them joy, while others have said it has given them the confidence to apply for an RPS Distinction.
Here is a snippet of our photographic diary of a pandemic. Within it are many images taken during the pandemic and some that were taken before - wistful reminders of life before lockdown.
Week 1 - theme 'Light' (closed 26 April)
Top: Chris Renk (Germany)
Middle: Let There Be Light By Candia Peterson LRPS (USA)
Bottom: Urs Albrecht LRPS (Switzerland)
These three images, from the seven featured that week, sum up my feelings of the pandemic. Lightening strikes, a beam of light appears in the dark (hope) and a new dawn appears (our future).
Week 2 - theme 'Still Life' (closed 3 May)
Top: Steve Taylor ARPS (UK)
Middle: Gloriana Morehead LRPS (UK)
Bottom: Nod to the Dutch Masters by Candia Peterson LRPS (USA)
This week saw people foraging in their homes and gardens for inspiration. Steve's striking image is of a heater in his garage, Gloriana appreciated the simple beauty of flowers around her and Candia produced a clever traditional image with a lockdown twist.
Week 3 - theme 'Food' (closed 10 May)
Gerry Phillipson LRPS (France)
No other image better summed up our most wanted items for me this week (apart from toilet roll!), than Gerry's photograph of his store cupboard. It also reflected the claustrophobic feeling of lockdown.
Week 4 - theme 'Abstract' (closed 17 May)
Top: John Credland ARPS (UK)
Bottom: Jan Beesley LRPS (UK)
A theme again that was achievable at home. John and Jan experimented with light and movement. I found the creativity of those who entered and their different interpretations of the same theme really interesting.
Week 5 - theme 'Home' (closed 24 May)
Susi Petherick LRPS (UK)
As we were constrained to our homes, many of us began looking at the things around us with fresh eyes. I love the play of light on this fabric. It looks so tactile I want to stroke it and wiggle my toes in the warm sunlight coming through the window.
Week 6 - theme 'View' (closed 31 May)
Andy Leonard LRPS (UK)
Dark clouds over rapeseed fields reflect the pressure on the British farming industry to get the crops in. As these key workers found themselves understaffed, and with European workers unable to assist due to travel and lockdown restrictions, calls were put out to try and get people from across the UK to help.
Week 7 - theme 'Me' (closed 7 June)
Urs Albrecht LRPS (Switzerland)
Food again - a lockdown topic full of stress (how to get it), obsession (can't stop thinking about it) and pleasure (the healing power of enjoying something nice to eat). The nation became obsessed with baking, and yeast and flour became extremely sought after items.
Week 8 - theme 'Nature' (closed 4 June)
Top: Michael Colman (UK)
Bottom: Wendy Ball (UK)
During lockdown, people were encouraged to take an hour of exercise each day. This gave nature a break which allowed many species to thrive, without the heavy impact of humans, and it also made many people open their eyes to nature during walks near their homes. Michael's seal struggling alone, uphill and against the rain, seemed to reflect our own struggle during this period. Wendy's beautiful photograph of a hedgehog, one of our most shy and endearing creatures, gave me hope for its recovery.
Week 9 - theme 'Colour' (closed 21 June)
Top: Chris Renk (Germany)
Middle: Paint Board By Rob Kershaw ARPS (Switzerland)
Bottom: Angela Morgan ARPS (UK)
I enjoy working in black and white but this week it felt really important to focus on colour as people's spirits were starting to dip. I loved these three images for such different reasons. The stunning landscape that Chris entered reminded me of the beauty of what is out there beyond the doorstep. Rob's image was a fitting tribute to the huge display of creativity I saw daily on social media as people found their inner artists, musicians, gardeners and bakers. I appreciated Angela's work not only for its neatness but it also spoke to me of how we are all different while also the same.
Week 10 - theme 'Happy' (closed 28 June)
Top: Maggie Jary ARPS (UK)
Bottom: Urs Albrecht LRPS (Switzerland)
I chose this theme as I wanted people to try and focus on finding happiness amongst the sadness and worry. Here we have two bittersweet images from times before lockdown, in the days when we could gather together and enjoy social occasions with family and friends. They are lovely reminders of what we are all hoping for.
Week 11 - theme 'B/W' (closed 5 July)
Top: Bernie Totten (UK)
Bottom: Julia Hadji-Stylianou ARPS (UK)
Some weeks there were so many amazing photographs I could have run the same theme for a month! Bernie's image has become one of my favourite photographs. I think it sums up the experience of so many parents during lockdown who were struggling with childcare and home-schooling, while also trying to maintain homes and often also work from home. The light is beautiful and I love how it plays on the faces and wisps of hair of the mother and child. Julia's image shows the growing confidence of many creatures in a world benefitting from less outdoor human activity. This plucky little thing is giving great eye contact and appears to be holding court on the kitchen table!
Week 11 - theme 'Summer' (closed 12 July)
Top: Sylvie Domergue (Madagascar)
Next: Grahame Soden ARPS (Sweden)
Next: Keir Gravil (UK)
Next: Karine Leroux (UK)
Bottom: Michael Colman (UK)
Another busy week with some stunning images. People had so much to say through their work. There was a wide range of ideas reflected from physical considerations and practicalities of dealing with a pandemic to politics or depictions of people trying to find tranquility. I think this was my favourite week of work to date as it was so diverse and interesting.
Week 12 - theme 'Structure' (closed 17 July)
Malcolm Journeaux ARPS (UK)
This week was intriguing as when I chose the word 'structure' for our theme, I thought I would receive as many images of the nature world as of structures made by man. However, when I reviewed the images entered, they were nearly all of man-made constructions. Was this a reflection of us (humans) trying to find some sort of order while nature currently feels so unpredictable?
Week 13 - theme 'Texture' (closed 26 July)
Gaynor Davies ARPS (UK)
After some busy weeks our 'texture' theme was surprisingly quiet. I loved Gaynor's artistic interpretation of the theme which I think encapsulated the topic well. The fine spray, the mist and the heavy drag of the water all produce very different textural feels.
Week 14 - theme 'Landscape' (closed 2 August)
Top: June Poston (UK)
Next: Eberhard Potempa (Germany)
Next: Noel Bennett ARPS (UK)
Bottom: Tao Jiang (China)
'Landscape' was a theme that felt, for me, weighed down by idealism and nostalgia. Empty vistas reflected uncertainty about world travel in a week that saw the 'air bridge' to Spain from the UK cancelled. Most of the images I received seemed to be taken before the pandemic.
Week 15 - theme 'Macro' (closed 9 August)
Top: Ann Miles FRPS (UK)
Bottom: Qasim Syed ARPS (UK)
'Macro' was a week in which I expected to see some stunning images of small creatures and I wasn't disappointed. We have a wonderful Nature Group within the RPS and their Programme Co-ordinator, Ann Miles FRPS, really made me smile with her image of a gravity defying caterpillar. Qasim's butterflies appearing to have a chat were equally exquisite in their photographic execution and charming to view.
Week 16 - theme 'Night' (closed 16 August)
Top: Ann Chown ARPS (UK)
Bottom: Douglas Lander ARPS (UK)
Few photographs have ever given me the sense of cosiness that Ann's tiny hut in the snow has. It made me feel that lockdown could be a pleasurable experience. With its warm, welcoming glow and contrasting blue of the sky, I wanted to find out what was behind the hut door. Comet NEOWISE was a highlight of the year for many and this photograph by Douglas, with the comet hurtling past a stone circle, makes us realise how small we are in the big picture of things.
Week 17 - theme 'Contrast' (closed 21 August)
Tao Jiang (China)
In Tao's image, the unnatural red of the background on the left contrasts strongly with the purity of the white on the right. The neon glow on the model's face reminds me of a night in a busy city centre - something many of us feel very far-removed from at the moment. Will we come to a time again when we can enjoy the theatre, restaurants and clubs with friends and without fear? Photographs can be so evocative, creating trains of thoughts, feelings and ideas. We often create our own narrative that may be quite different from the photographer's original intention.
Week 18 - theme 'Wild' (closed 30 August)
Top: Grahame Soden ARPS (Sweden)
Bottom: Ashish Chalapuram (India)
As expected, the theme 'wild' drew in many images of creatures. Grahame's image shows the toughness of winter that a lot of mammals have to endure - battling snow and cold while also trying to find food. Ashish's image is much more sedate with the deer blending in nicely amongst the autumn colours.
Week 19 - theme 'Curves' (closed 6 September)
Top: Lynda Morris LRPS (UK)
Middle: John Credland ARPS (UK)
Bottom: Charana Jayasuriya (Sri Lanka)
And so we have reached our current competition. I think I may have had a psychic moment when I chose the theme 'curves', because that is all that I seem to have heard about in the last few days, as the pandemic curve rises again in the UK! As with the 'structure' week we are mainly focused on the solidity of man-made things. There is an emptiness and bleakness in these urban settings - people are rarely present.
It is so interesting to see the journey that those who have entered the competition have gone on as they experience the pandemic. I think it is important to remember as we approach winter that this too will pass and that in a few months it will be spring. Buds will be coming up through the ground in the UK and many other parts of the world, watery winter sunshine will make way for first touches of warmth and creatures will come out more freely from their homes. I look forward to seeing how this diary develops as we approach that time. Be well and be safe everyone.
Thank you to all those who have entered the competition so far.
The copyright on all images belongs to the photographer.