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This is the twenty fourth blog in a series on COVID-19 and lockdown, edited by firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
In November 2016 I gave a keynote presentation to the Art of Good Health and Wellbeing Conference in Sydney at the invitation of the Baring Foundation. I opened with this challenge: “Try to imagine a world without art” - and conjured up a world without poetry, painting, music, creative photography or more. In such a world, communication is purposeful and functional. “Without art”, George Bernard Shaw postulated, “the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable”. It would be a world without humanity, hope or love. If people are unwell or find themselves without a clear role in society, what would inspire them to keep going, to believe in themselves, or in the future?
My purpose in raising such an image of Orwellian dystopia was to shock my audience into realising that such places actually exist closer to home than we might wish. For many years, our society has built housing estates, care homes, prisons, hospital wards and communities where people live without creativity, inspiration or hope for the future. Reported levels of loneliness, poverty and mental health issues have spiralled - but creativity and participative arts offer a way for people to recover meaning in their lives, and to share this with others. The evidence for this is overwhelming and provides a compelling argument for governments to invest in the arts. In the UK, the new National Centre for Creative Health is leading the development of this research-led work.
As we enter this next phase of the Covid-19 pandemic and reflect on how society has adapted to life in lockdown that artless dystopia seems all too real. Never before have we needed our imaginations so much - to help us travel to distant lands; to express our frustrations, anxieties and hopes; and to find new purpose and vitality within the confines of our restricted lives.
For me, photography has always been a source of such solace. It has been a reason to travel to new places, or to return to familiar ones; to engage with people and understand their stories; or to try to capture the atmosphere of a unique place or moment. Since joining the RPS last year, I’ve spoken to many who feel the same and seen how the organisation’s staff and volunteers have supported tens of thousands of people to remain inspired, creative and connected through photography, in many different ways.
During the past seven years, I led the national charity Live Music Now, which trains and supports musicians working in special schools, care homes, hospitals and communities. It was my privilege to witness countless incredible moments of connection, where music bridged neurological pathways that were blocked by dementia, autism or other conditions. When I had my camera with me, I relished the challenge of capturing these fleeting moments. The photographs you see on this page are all examples of this and help the charity provide narrative for its quantitative evidence about the effects of music.
Now that I’m helping lead the RPS, I’m interested in how we can develop an evidence base for the wellbeing impacts of everyday photographic practices. I’ve spoken with several people and organisations that are also interested in how a camera forces us to concentrate on that tiny split second of time that we release the shutter, fully engaging with the world around us, and freeing us from our anxieties for a period. I’ve been inspired by the wonderful blog series of the RPS Contemporary Group, which has revealed so many such stories. Together, I hope we can develop new ways to encourage and support everyone to enjoy, make and share meaningful photographs, to help boost mental health and navigate our way through the next stages of this global pandemic. Perhaps we can persuade doctors to issue cameras instead of pills?
More of Evan’s images at www.evandawson.com
Other blogs in this series:
A photobook project in 80 days
Through Our Lens COVID-19 Project
Photography and Personal Development
Photography as a tool against depression
Emotions and photography during a year of pandemic
A Buddhist Perspective on the Pandemic
Inside Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust ICUs
Hope. Struggle. Change. March 2020 - A Lockdown Diary
‘MentalCollodion’: Supporting Mental Health with Wet Plate Photography during a Pandemic
Together we are stronger – Inside an NHS Hospital during COVID-19