After the UK went into lockdown in March 2020, human rights photojournalist Angela Catlin knew there would be major changes for her professionally.
While the planet grappled with the grim implications of an unfolding pandemic, she felt her world closing in on her.
“Five letters and two numbers changed life overnight – Covid-19,” she says. “Never in my wildest nightmare could I have foreseen the tragedy that would blanket the planet.”
Catlin specialises in documenting human rights and social issues. Her work from locations including Iraq, Haiti, Gaza and Burkina Faso has been published by the Guardian, New York Times, Al Jazeera and the BBC.
Rather than bringing her professional life to a halt, though, Catlin saw the pandemic as a chance to create something remarkable closer to home.
“This was a chance to tell the story of your own community as a microcosm of what was being experienced across the world,” she says. “With all my usual work grinding to a stop I decided to bear witness with my camera and reveal at least a small part of this historic and cataclysmic event. Glasgow offered up laughter, contentment, sadness and ecstasy, all moments that added up to reveal a story.”
The result is an exhibition and book, Still Life, a collaboration with poet Henry Bell, which document life in their home city of Glasgow over two years, as Covid-19 took its toll and restrictions fluctuated. Catlin hopes Still Life will resonate across the UK and beyond. “Our venture – witnessing what was being experienced in our home city – was a microcosm of a global event,” she says.
Here, the photographer tells the story behind eight images taken on her own doorstep but reflecting the wider human experience during tumultuous times.
‘Black Lives Matter protest’ (main image, above)
“There were many important political demonstrations throughout the pandemic and we sought to tell these stories. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was murdered in the US city of Minneapolis by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer.
“This event caused widespread unrest across the globe. In Glasgow, June 2020, protestors rallied peacefully to make their feelings known. People were advised not to attend the event as we were in the thick of the first lockdown, but thousands turned out to the anti-racism demonstration on Glasgow Green. Most wore face coverings and observed social distancing.”
“Many religious events were either cancelled or downsized. Eid in Glasgow was one such occasion. After a month of prayer and fasting, Muslims usually celebrate the fulfilling of their sacred duties during Ramadan. In normal circumstances, after their morning prayers families meet to exchange food and gifts.
“With mosques closed and gatherings banned, people still dressed in their best and celebrated, but in a much more low-key way. Three young girls took simple delight in feeding the ducks in Queen’s Park.”
“Social life came to a halt with pubs, gyms and clubs all going dark. With any congregational activities being suspended, the drastic impact of the pandemic, especially on older adults, resulted in loneliness and social isolation.
“Bingo halls were among the last businesses to be allowed to reopen. Vogue Bingo in the east end of Glasgow is the city’s oldest remaining Art Deco cinema building and independent bingo club. Customers were welcomed back and friends – some of whom had been previously attending together for over twenty years – could finally reunite.”
‘Cinema with juice and popcorn’
"Cineworld temporarily closed all 127 of its UK cinemas in October 2020 as big box office movies like the James Bond film No Time to Die were pushed back.
“The move affected thousands of employees. Cinemas were among the last businesses to reopen the following spring, and the sector was one of the hardest hit in the economy. With social distancing and masks in place, films returned to cinemas, and juice and popcorn were back on the menu.”
“The homeless and vulnerable were a group which suffered even more than normal. When lockdown hit, some organisations were forced to restrict their services. That’s when the George Square operation became more important than ever. Glasgow’s Kindness Street Team provided hot drinks, meals and essential items during the lockdown.
“Queues would be formed as the group set up, often 50 or more of an evening. It also provided the chance for social interaction.”
“Funeral services had to follow social distancing guidelines and only close family were allowed into the venue where the service was being held. Funerals were livestreamed and people who could attend were advised to refrain from consoling one another – no hugs or handshakes were allowed.
“It was suggested that demand for traditional east end funerals increased because money was being saved on hospitality.”
‘Rangers Football Club win the league’
“Football had been played behind closed doors since the first lockdown. Hundreds of Rangers fans gathered outside the club’s Ibrox Stadium to celebrate the team winning the Scottish Premiership title. Despite coronavirus lockdown rules, fans were packed together in their hundreds.”
‘Students confined to rooms’
“Education was impacted through all strata of learning. For university and college students, face-to-face teaching was withdrawn and arrangements were made for online lessons. Students at the University of Glasgow, such as those in Murano Street Student Village, were confined to their rooms for long periods, attending lectures online. Some foreign students, after being vaccinated, returned home for the Christmas holiday and didn’t return.”
All images by Angela Catlin from the series Still Life
Still Life, an exhibition of images and poems by Angela Catlin and Henry Bell, is at Sogo Arts Gallery, Glasgow, until 17 April 2022. A book of the same name is published by Speculative Books