Our COVID-19 Case Studies explore the different ways the photographic community is working and staying connected through the pandemic. If you would like to submit a Case Study get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Becky is a portrait and documentary photographer based in London. She has studied photography at Spéos, London and previously worked in the non profit sector for eight years. In her personal work she uses photography to explore themes of mental wellbeing and family and is increasingly looking to incorporate participatory practices within her work.
How did you find studying/graduating during the pandemic?
Initially I found the first national lockdown quite challenging and really noticed the effect it was having on my mental health. I was studying at the time and found the pressure to produce new work in order to still meet the course deadlines and requirements really demanding. On reflection it was a really interesting process of learning to let go, adapt and approach my work in a different way.
Has the new context inspired you to try anything innovative that you haven’t tried before? If so, what?
Instead of being able to continue work on a project based on my Grandma, I developed a new body of work called ‘Corona with Gratitude’, which I have continued to work on since finishing my course.
The concept behind the project is to use photography as a tool to not only help raise awareness to the importance of mental wellbeing, but also provide those involved with a practical activity where they can be reminded about the small and important things that are often overlooked in our daily lives.
For a minimum of 9 days, I asked each person involved to take a photo every day of a moment or thing that they were grateful for. I would then pair their photos with a portrait of each person using Zoom.
Although it is not evident in the end result, a really important element to the project was the process of sharing the images between participants; helping to create a positive and supportive community for those taking part. To achieve this I chose to set up WhatsApp groups where those involved would use this space to share their daily photos and why they were grateful for what they had photographed.
Are there any working methods that you envisage keeping once the lockdown is over? How are you finding online life?
I have learnt a lot from the project, both in terms of its conception and the process of making the work. As someone who normally prefers to be outdoors and around people, it has given me a greater appreciation for what the online world can offer!
Before making this work I had only seen the online programmes we use to communicate (WhatsApp and Zoom) as tools to organise my work, rather than for them to play an active and crucial role in making and shaping the work itself. Particularly when creating the portraits over Zoom I found the process to be really collaborative. Although I still gave a lot of direction, each person arguably had more influence and choice over the final outcome by being able to control what they allowed me (and therefore the viewer) to see behind them.
A different advantage of the project being solely based online was that it meant I was able to work with people from all across the world, from Australia to Ghana to Costa Rica. It was fascinating seeing different views of the world at this time, though accommodating different time zones for the zoom shoot could be tricky!
I feel encouraged that I have been able to use photography in a positive way and it in turn has led to different work; delivering various online photography workshops for organisations such as The Fostering Network and Carers UK.
Going forwards I want to continue exploring portraiture in ways where whoever I am photographing is able to contribute and play an active role in shaping the end result. It has also given me the confidence to push outside of my comfort zone and to work more with strangers.
What advice, resources, links or projects would you like to share with other photographers?
I found that the training I had received several years ago from the organisation PhotoVoice to be really beneficial in helping me to deliver the participatory part of the project. Although I had to adapt their principles I had learnt into the online environment, I found their resources to be incredible valuable and can highly recommend to any photographer wanting to learn more about participatory photography projects.
Lastly I can recommend reading ‘A Beautiful Constraint’ by Adam Morgan and Make Barden. It is a book that I have dipped in and out of over the past few years but have found it really helpful in creating a mindset where you are able to turn your limitations into advantages.