This is the third blog in a series on COVID-19 and lockdown, edited by email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
I live in Caythorpe and Frieston, conjoined villages which straddle the Lincoln Cliff escarpment situated 17 miles from Lincoln. I bought my first camera in March 2017 quickly joined the RPS to develop my skills, retired in May 2018 and started a full-time degree in Photography at Lincoln College in September of the same year.
In March 2020 I found myself in lockdown with my wife and son – all three of us trying to continue our degree studies at home. I was casting around for a project and saw a doorstep photo of a friend on the village Facebook page (1300 members). At 8:15pm on Thursday 2nd April I posted an appeal to photograph other village families on their doorstep. I was worried about the response; it was early in the pandemic and negative comments might kill the idea.
I crafted the original post carefully to set out the aims of the project – to both help my Photography degree and to show community strength during the crisis. I stated there would be no charge but that volunteers agreed to the images being shared on the internet and used in any subsequent exhibition. I invited villagers to present themselves using social distancing as they wished, with or without pets. That night I had scheduled nine portraits for the following day.
That first Facebook appeal generated 90 comments, all positive. Initially I booked the portraits at 30-minute intervals and walked from house to house. I spoke to occupants to develop rapport and also to satisfy my natural curiosity about them. The only criterion for the portraits was to produce something about which the subjects would be happy. I processed the images that evening and posted them on the village Facebook group as well as in a dedicated album on Flickr and on Instagram (@richard_hallphoto).
The first Facebook post of photographs generated 122 likes and 82 comments. I posted in this way almost every day and these images became a way for villagers to communicate with one another – many responses on Facebook followed together with referrals by word of mouth. Ex-residents commented on the posts and offered encouragement.
A local psychotherapist commented that the portraits gave villagers a reason to smile, she said her daughter had done her makeup for her and the effort of being at the gate at the appointed time was her success for the day and recommended everyone to take part. I soon photographed up to 12 portraits in a day at 15-minute intervals. I interviewed most people and the images were almost incidental taking up around 2 or 3 minutes of the 15-minute slot. I had previously known only 2 of the first 50 families photographed. The last photograph was taken as the Prime Minster was announcing the end of the lockdown. I had made 178 portraits covering around 25% of the village, as well as doorstep portraits I photographed the allotment holders, the doctor’s surgery, nursing home and other businesses.
The parish council approached me to tell they were going to produce a book with my images, I replied saying I would do one myself. I approached Stewart Wall ARPS to help create a PDF of the material for me. The chairman of the parish council wrote the foreword and I produced photographers notes and a small section about me. I wanted to produce the book quickly; I allowed myself 5 days to prepare all the material for editing and then Stewart was able to finish the PDF within a week. I worked with Inprint printers in Malton, North Yorkshire, having chosen the printer after seeing a book they printed for Lucy Saggers, a Yorkshire documentary photographer. I registered a publishing company and bought a block of ISBN’s to give the book a more professional finish. Various people and businesses approached me to sponsor the project, their support helped keep the final price down. The final book weighs in at a full 1 kg, being 200 pages of A4 landscape, 1 picture per page. From taking the first portrait to publishing the book took exactly 80 days.
Using Facebook I attracted over 150 orders largely from people in the village. I paid for the book upfront and then accepted cash or cheque on delivery. On the day I released the book 84 people visited my house to collect their copy! The book featured in 2 local newspapers and BBC Radio Lincolnshire interviewed me on three separate occasions. The project also was featured in the RPS Journal in May 2020. I sent a copy to Martin Parr, who said it was a very nice project and a welcome addition to his (Foundation) library. I have also been invited to appear at Newark Book Festival to show the work.
The project has brought joy to the community and enhanced cohesion. Sharing the images daily on Facebook drove interest and engagement in the project and also gave people yet to be photographed confidence that I would produce an image with which they would be happy. I have received many kind comments and the book is being placed in the village archives as well in numerous children’s memory boxes and will surely outlive the images hosted on Instagram and Flickr. One comment came from an American photographer who wrote to me having stumbled across the images writing ‘these simple posed photos, taken as a totality, a body of work has left me with the feeling of comfort in the presence of total strangers’.
- Make a plan before you start.
- Keep communications channels simple; managing hundreds of messages coming in from various sources can be overwhelming.
- Only commit to what you can deliver.
- Carry a whistle to attract dogs’ attention.
Caythorpe & Frieston in Lockdown (ISBN 978-1-8380520-0-3)