From 26th January to 20th February 2022, Tony Fisher, who recently joined the RPS, will be putting on his “Only the Lonely?” exhibition at the Art House in Wakefield.
Tony’s “Only the Lonely?” photography project, which was funded by Arts Council England, provides a valuable insight into the nation’s mental health and wellbeing through his study of human solitude and isolation.
For over 40 years, mental health has played a key part in Tony’s life, a succession of personal tragedies having led to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder which in turn left Tony struggling to cope with the extreme loneliness caused by his loss.
Suddenly, Tony’s life had come to a standstill and he was at a loss as to how to get it moving again. Once a creative photographer, who was passionately involved in his local community, Tony had now become withdrawn from his former life.
And yet, it was Tony’s love of art which helped him to come back from what he describes as a very “dark place.”
This, together with the suffering caused by this loneliness, acted as a springboard for the “Only the Lonely?” project.
Before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic Tony spent time visiting communities across the country, keen to find and photograph people whose lives resonated with his own.
In Burnham-On-Sea Tony took photos of some of the founders of the “Happy to chat bench. Sit here if you don't mind someone stopping to say hello,” whose aim was to give strangers the opportunity to chat with each other if they wanted to.
However, as a result of the lockdowns in 2020, not only did this sense of isolation amongst the population became more ubiquitous, but Tony’s project increased in significance. Tony knew that people’s mental health would be suffering as a result of the enforced isolation and he was keen to carry on with the project.
The “Happy to chat” bench became the “Happy to slap a fine bench” due to what Tony describes as, “The virus that came in from the cold.”
So, Tony adapted to this new challenge by taking a series of lockdown portraits of local people through their windows. Those taking part were asked to show something which was helping them to keep their minds occupied during lockdown. Tony was keen to give people a voice by illustrating the impact that isolation was having on them and the ways in which they were managing to cope.
The nearby town of Belper became a very important place for Tony to visit during lockdown having discovered the “Belper Moo.” As a way of keeping the community together during this difficult time, the residents of Belper would call out a mighty “moo” at 6.30 pm every day. As time went on this became increasingly popular, with residents coming up with some very creative ways of taking part.
In terms of his own mental wellbeing, Tony discovered that the lockdown had a surprisingly positive impact on him, as the limitations imposed forced him to take on new photographic challenges. One of these challenges manifested itself as a regular photo diary called, “Brave New World” the images from which were uploaded to the blog “Mad Covid.”
In the future, Tony would like to see the “Only the Lonely?” exhibition on view at other galleries and has plans to embark on new projects and create more exhibitions.
As a mental health advocate, Tony hopes his project will widen the debate on mental health and create a greater awareness of the issues faced by others.