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Please note: RPS House is closed for our exhibition install. We will be open again from 10am on Friday 9th August 2024.


Michelle Sank: How I learned to breathe again

This British photographer’s personal study of public spaces, initiated during the first UK lockdown, has now become a long-term project

Above: 'Children enjoying first day of Eid, playing fields’ from the series Breathe

I went into self-isolation during the first [UK government] lockdown on 16 March 2020. To cope with this, I began to document how people were managing private and public spaces on my daily walks in the area of Wonford, Exeter, close to where I live in the UK.

I was drawn to how people of all ages negotiated this new way of being – those living on their own, those in relationships, those within families – and how they interacted with both private and public spaces. The gestures, body language and interplay all impart suggestive narratives in relation to this situation.


Above: ‘Caleb and his children Dorcas and Solomon, playing fields’ from the series Breathe


Alongside this, house facades and accompanying objects have assumed a heightened relevance as a metaphorical context for the representation of the portraits – often symbolic of life and death within this fragile time.

Breathe is now an ongoing project that continues to develop as lockdown has changed and situations have opened up, but my focus remains on documenting this unique community and delving further into its social history and significance.


Above: ‘Ella, Keira and Tia, playing fields’ from the series Breathe


All images by Michelle Sank

The works in Breathe, on show at The Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, until 21 November, were acquired through the Contemporary Art Society’s Rapid Response Fund in Summer 2020 and will become part of the museum’s permanent archive.

Michelle Sank is among 13 photographers whose work features in the exhibition Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors at IWM, London, till 7 January 2022, then at the Royal Photographic Society, Bristol.

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Above: 'Young girl with kite, playing fields' from the series Breathe