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 for more information.
Ciara Leeming is a Manchester-based photographer with a parallel career in print journalism. She writes social affairs features for publications such as Big Issue North and works on self-initiated documentary projects which often mix photography with text and audio. Between 2010 and 2015, she worked with Roma families to tell intimate stories about their lives, in a project funded by Arts Council England and Side Gallery. During the first UK lockdown, she photographed more than 250 households in her neighbourhood of Levenshulme through their windows. She went on to make a book, Levy Lockdown Portraits, funded via Kickstarter.
How are you adapting your work during the pandemic?
I’ve had very little headspace because I have two young kids who take up most of my time. At the start of the first lockdown I felt frustrated. The journalist in me wanted to document this crazy news event so I shot a few window portraits on my street. It snowballed and before long I had a project. Normally I interview the people I photograph but I shot many of these portraits with my kids in tow, so had to be quick. The community aspect of my work is also something new. So many people enjoyed the series as I shared it that there was a natural audience for a book.
How are you coping?
Like everyone, I’m having my ups and downs. I find my current lack of bandwidth extremely tough. With schools closed, I’m only able to start working after 8.30pm. I think carving out some space to make personal work against all the odds helped kept me sane through a difficult few months – it’s easy to lose yourself when all you are doing is looking after kids and keeping house. I’m proud of that achievement – doubly so because my dad died the day my crowdfunder closed. Again, having something to put my energy into at such a difficult time was quite helpful.
Has the new context inspired you to try anything innovative that you haven’t tried before? If so, what?
Early in 2020, I was commissioned by Peshkar, an Oldham arts organisation, to make some participatory work. I’ve finally found a way forward thanks to Crossing Sectors, a socially engaged photography course I’m on, run by Open Eye Gallery. I recently launched Levy Lockdown Project, which invites Levenshulme residents to document their own experiences of this period. I sent a box of art materials and prompts to a core group of participants and we are going analogue – using scrapbooks and mailing things to each other during this time of seemingly endless Zoom meetings. There’s also a Facebook group and Instagram hashtag (#levylockproject), where any resident can share their images – and I’m hoping to end up with a real mishmash of media. I don’t know what will come of all this but am trying to embrace that uncertainty.
What advice, resources, links or projects would you like to share with other photographers?
How are you procrastinating or distracting yourself from any stress?
When I have time, I’m experimenting with collage. I haven’t done anything I like yet but I’m enjoying the process.
Are there any people or organisations that you would like to particularly highlight for their interesting approach during this time?
I’ve enjoyed photographers who have found different ways to respond to lockdown. My favourites so far are Nicola Muirhead, who put household cleaning products on her images, and Claudia Leisinger’s portrait series The Modern Hunter Gatherers, which looks at people’s shopping habits during the first lockdown.