In 2007 I left the Home Counties to live on the south coast; in Poole to be exact, but just a mile or so from Bournemouth town centre, which provides extensive fodder for my documentary, conceptual and contemporary projects. There is always something going on.
I am now in my mid sixties and have been taking photographs from the age of 5 or 6. My upbringing was privileged, even so I became the victim of child abuse between the ages of 9 and 14; my abuser was a non-family trusted member of our rural community.
From that moment on I became reliant on my camera; a Kodak Brownie 127 — which was the last present my grandfather gave me. It is fortuitous that I could live my life with photography to rely on — to distract me, to stay in the moment and in so many other ways that evolved over time. I cannot imagine how I would have coped otherwise.
An accident in 1998 compacted what I now know is C-PTSD (Complex PTSD) which manifests itself with symptoms that are similar to claustrophobia and social anxiety particularly in moment of stress.
When I realised that the Total Lockdown of March, April and May 2020 was approaching I knew that we were facing anxiety and stress on a global scale. A catastrophe unlike anything we had ever had before, without any physical contact with family and friends. But, thank goodness, unlike the previous generations we now have the Internet.
I wondered whether the techniques that I have relied on throughout my life with photography, could help other people. I started to post online; to start with, making a suggestion to my own Facebook Friends and a couple of groups. The intention was simply to keep our minds off what was happening in our real world by sharing our photographs with each other — either those we had taken on that day or delving through our archives and albums — and then talking about them in the comments.
The idea came to the attention of Angela Nicholson, the founder of the Facebook group SheClicks (a group for over 7000 female photographers from around the world) who immediately asked me, if I would consider running daily posts within the group. I agreed, it helped me to have found a way of using my skills at a time when the majority were confined to our houses, unless we had the qualifications and skills of a key worker.
There was no planning involved, particularly at the beginning… I sat down with my calendar in front of me and started scribbling. 86 days later, the members’ daily posts prompted by my Conversation Starters as I called them, fill files with over 900 A4 pages.
It is important to say that I am not a psychologist or trained counsellor. Over the three months I posted Conversation Starters that I felt would help the group simply by distracting us from the moment we were forced to live in. Drawing on my various uses of photography from over the years and by recognising exactly what stage I was going through myself, which I was also privately diarising with Visual Metaphors as I call them*, meant that I could gear my daily posts and Conversation Starters accordingly.
I took up a routine that people could then rely on. I posted the next day’s photograph and Conversation Starter quite late at night (GMT time) and I myself answered, liked, or commented on nearly every post throughout the waking hours, as did many other people, with photographs of their own.
Someone in the world was always waking up to new posts; someone in the world was always posting and in that way we shared a camaraderie that I have not known before and am unlikely to experience in the same way again.
Having helped to diffuse our anxieties by keeping our minds away from what was happening, I changed the emphasis of the posts to enable us to face the reality in small manageable bites. There were those that shared their anger; anxiety; powerlessness and bewilderment. Others said very little, going with the flow, encouraged by a lack of rules and regulations in an impromptu daily photographic challenge.
The aim was for us to come out the other side with the best result possible. Surviving, yes of course, but more than that. My hope is that we could reach a level of acceptance, in preparation for the unknown of our ‘new normal’ state.
Sally’s actual RPS blog can be viewed online here: https://rps.org/news/groups/contemporary/2020/december/teaching-by-example/
* Sally’s own Visual Metaphors from her ‘86 days in Lockdown With Photography®’ are incorporated into a Brooklyn Sketchbook Project, which can be viewed here: https://www.sketchbookproject.com/library/S8736842 a facsimile can be purchased from Amazon.
Two of the photographs from the sketchbook are included in the USA juried exhibition ‘A Ballad of Our Changing World’ and can be viewed here: https://balladofourchangingworld.weebly.com/artists.html
Sally’s website is www.withphotography.co.uk Author of the With Photography series of books, her methodology is described in her autobiographical work ‘Making Connections With Photography® – an illustrated autobiography’