History matters. Images make History. Photogaphers make images. I’m making this new lockdown the subject of a new series, and you’re welcome to join in.
Sometimes History is made with a huge “bang”, mostly violent events, whether natural of human-engineered, and sometimes it is ushered in with the whisper of apparently very minor events far away. So unspectacular that no-one is conscious of what has just begun. Like a couple of deaths in a hospital in Wuhan, China.
Many things are part and parcel of our world only because there are images to brand them in our memories. Now that cameras are ubiquitous, secrets and dark corners of the world are so XXth century.
This has brought about a major change. Just as the Reformation sought to put bibles in the hands of every believer who could read, and not only in those of priests, cameras of all types mean that every photographer, and no longer only pros, can contribute to writing History with images. Because, as Pascal so often says: #POIDH (pictures, or it didn’t happen).
Who can say that our present is not historic? Lockdowns, confinements, masks, Wuhan bumps, social distancing, all those and more would have been unthinkable a year ago. Hopefully, they will not last forever, as researchers come up with cures and vaccines.
Until then, it is our duty to document and memorialize these strange times. And not just for historians’ sake, but because images matter. They contribute to shaping public opinion. All of us can recall how dramatic images and accounts of dramatic events did just that. In previous times, this was the purview of professionals, ‘togs and writers. Think Churchill on the Boer war, or Ernest Hemingway on the Civil War in Spain. Remember the part images played on on shaping the conscience of the American public regarding the war in Vietnam.
This does not mean we are all war correspondents, required to weave our way into hospitals and ICUs. Our times are made up of a myriad of things happening, large and small. Photographers credited with iconic images often testify that they weren’t aware of the potential of the one image that would resonate across the world as opposed to others taken in the same vein.
During lockdown #1 in France, I related how the situation and dearth of subjects within my constrained reach had made my photography evolve, as it forced me to push myself towards higher standards of execution, and also of seeing and doing more with less to go by. We are now in lockdown #2, and I want this to be -and I am not denying the tragic dimension that overshadows all others- an instance when my storytelling is not, as usual, opportunistic, but oriented, on a theme.
Such images can be of varying nature: spectacular, or intimate, archetypal, or exceptional, factual, or opinionated, rational, or emotional. You get it. Anything goes, as long as it resonates with viewers, and makes the theme and underlying story come alive.
My theme -how original- is “lockdown”. My challenge: at least one “strong” image a day, taken during my one-and-only permitted daily walk.
After the scoring a major win, Napoleon told his soldiers that whoever could say “I was at Austerlitz” would be recognized as a man of bravery. I have no lust for wanton bravery. But in this battle of Covid, I, too, want to be able to say “I was there”. Which to me means more than just “I survived”. It means I was there as, in the words of Tom Wolfe, “a man in full”. Photography is so much more than just pretty pics or a photographer eager for recognition.
Is anyone else in with me? Then, once it is over, we could compile The Lockdown Diaries….
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