All photographs are copyright of John Clifton.
No photos may be reproduced in any form without the prior consent of the owner.
When I talk about my photography to anyone new I usually describe myself as a landscape photographer. I guess that is because it is something other people seem to understand and latch onto. But during lockdown this area of activity was largely suspended for me.
And in fact I do shoot images of anything that excites me visually – often spinning off of ideas running around my head at the time. So the images I have chosen for the Kirkbymoorside Camera Club’s 2020 Virtual Exhibition are drawn from this strand.
In particular the eight images I have chosen are all in some way a response to Corona Virus, and the resulting lockdown restrictions. This ‘Locked Down’ series has become an ongoing project, representing my creative response to the pandemic.
Years ago, when I was still a relatively young man, I was diagnosed with cancer. I underwent surgery, followed by several months of radio and chemotherapy. Amongst the therapeutic strategies I used to fight it was to visualise my illness as a way of taking control of it. I did this in my head at first, and then on paper – the subsequent act of destroying the image was very empowering.
So, taking inspiration from Grayson Perry and his creation of a protective anti-viral totem as part of his lock down Art Club programme, I decided to create an image of an imagined virus. This was achieved by combining shots of natural objects using layers in Photoshop, masking and blending them, and applying a range of Nik filters.
I made several colour versions of my ‘pet virus’, but in the end a black and white conversion seemed most appropriate – marrying best with the other images. As with the other images in the set, I applied a ‘confining’ border as a final effect – constraining the image as we felt constrained.
One of the more visible consequences of lockdown was the effect on people’s hairstyles. Some found it freeing to allow their hair to grow wildly beyond its normal limitations – often the source of great hilarity on social media. Others took control of their own destiny and reached, with varying degrees of confidence and competence, for the scissors and clippers.
This image of my wife Amanda is one of several I made as her hair grew longer and more intrusive. As her eyes became increasingly veiled by her fringe, I couldn’t help feeling that there was a metaphor for our situation in there. The brightness of her eyes still shone through.
The one hour of outside exercise permitted during the initial lockdown meant walking from home for us. We were particularly conscious of the potentially negative effect on our young labrador of any denial of her usual, daily ‘off the lead’ exercise. So, sticking to the guidelines, we walked from home each day – usually sticking to the same walk.
In some ways this proved a revelation – as walking the same route so often allowed us to appreciate the subtle changes in the landscape and vegetation that we might otherwise have missed. We added to our knowledge of wildflowers, and the sequence with which they emerged. We managed to spot a range of smaller birds that had previously eluded us.
But we could not help but feel limited by the confinement to a limited range. As committed walkers we were used to longer distances and more varied terrain. This image attempts to capture that feeling of being ‘hemmed in’ – in this case by the path across a field of barley, which narrowed day by day. Amanda is in the distance – an anonymous figure, limited to one route and socially distanced from all around.
This image was made on the first day that we ventured further afield, towards the end of lockdown. Beaches had been a contested venue for exercise, with locals asking people not to come to them to exercise, for fear of increasing the rate of transmission. We waited until a week had passed following the lifting of this advice, and headed for the coast at Filey.
Low tide on a weekday meant the 6 miles of beach was largely deserted – save for maybe half a dozen dog walkers. Social distancing was never going to be a challenge in such circumstances, and the rhythmic sound of the waves only added to the sense of isolation.
Lost in thought, we followed our dog down to the shoreline. And, not for the first time, she found me an image. The wind was whipping over the top of the sea and blowing bubbles of surf spume up on to the sand. And there we were, reflected in multiple bubbles – confined within a shining hemisphere that perfectly echoed our current situation.
On the same day as the ‘Social Bubble’ image, I took this final shot of curling seaweeds stranded at the water’s edge. Initially I was drawn to the simple beauty of the graphic pattern created, and the way the two types of seaweed seemed to be interacting – with one reaching out to enfold the other.
But I was also drawn to a more abstract thought – that these were plants removed from their normal environment. Their natural flowing motion and interactions had been suspended – first by the tide, and then by my still image. Like our lives, everything had suddenly and unexpectedly put on hold, suspended, made less certain..
Something of a follow up to the ‘Lockdown Locks’ image, this shot shows a small portion of the hair my wife cut from my head when she could no longer stand its length, and untidiness. Not since teenage years had I gone so long without a haircut – something freeing to begin with, but annoying in time.
Hair dressers were still closed at this point, along with many other businesses involving ‘close contact’. The internet was filling up with advice for the amateur hair stylist, and images of horrific ‘Lockdown Cuts’. Some enterprising hairdressers even started offering on-line coaching.
As I sat on a kitchen stool in the carport, and the curls of grey hair collected all around me, it struck me how intimate an experience it is to have a loved one cut your hair. It is an intensely tactile experience, and one which demands no small measure of trust.
Smile Behind the Mask
Given my health history, and the initial advice that men were at greater risk of infection, my wife insisted on doing the majority of Lockdown shopping. Face masks – advised, and then compelled in shops – became a feature of our lives. Making them, assessing the comfort and practicality of different designs, receiving them as welcome gifts from friends.
But the thing that has most struck me about masks is the visual barrier they erect between people. Everyone suddenly wears a blank expression – making it much more difficult to read their mood, to tell if they are wearing a smile, or a frown. I am sure this has contributed to the level of anxiety experienced in daily interactions – however necessary wearing a mask may be.
The Milkman of Human Kindness
Local deliveries of food, drink, and all manner of other household items have became ubiquitous during lockdown. One of the first things we did was to sign up for our milk to be delivered – saving a regular trip to the shops. As other regular human contacts diminished, this one was added – albeit at a distance.
Going to the front door to collect the milk triggered a wealth of nostalgic memories from childhood. The cold of the glass bottle, the clink as you return it to the fridge, rinsing the empties ready for collection and re-use, all took me back to a time when things seemed less ‘throw away’.
And an unexpected delight was the colourful advertising of a variety of regional dairies on many of the bottles. These connect you with producers from far and wide across the North – we have yet to see the same design twice..! It’s a simple thing, that has added a small amount of joy to a daily routine.