#1060. Marking History.

By philberphoto | Opinion

Nov 14

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.

Abandon. Where have the children gone?

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.

The backdrop of lockdown: the shroud

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).

Abandon. Where have the children gone? (2)

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.

Abandon. Where have the riders gone?

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.

Abandon. Where have the riders gone? (2)

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.

Abandon. Where have the visitors gone?

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.

Abandon. Where have the lovers gone?

My theme -how original- is “lockdown”. My challenge: at least one “strong” image a day, taken during my one-and-only permitted daily walk.

Abandon. Where have the workers gone?

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.

Locked down and out in Paris (and London)
In the shape of the virus

Is anyone else in with me? Then, once it is over, we could compile The Lockdown Diaries….


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  • Dallas says:

    Ah Philippe, what words of wisdom you convey in your images describing the current situation of were have all the people gone. The door knocker is a classic.

  • Robert says:

    Very Nice!

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Philippe, your artist’s eye has quite literally focused in on the poignant & iconic side of the pandemic. We will remember this period well thanks to the few photographers like yourself, those who have found a way to tell the story of our lives in the time of COVID. Your images are so haunting, yet so beautiful. Kudos, my friend.

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    Interesting that you see every photographer being able to contribute to history in an age of largely narcissistic image takers and social media. One wonders how history will be recorded by and large when we look back in 40 years time.

    As you in the northern hemisphere enter your new winter of discontent and fall foul of a second wave consensual hallucination, in the far south lockdowns are over in all but name. As throughout history and witnessed during the Vietnam war you mentioned, I see signs of a strong counter culture developing. It is something that does not surprise those of us who remember the chants of “1,2,3,4 what are we fighting for” and “Hell No! We won’t Go!”.

    The ability of the human spirit to overcome and cut through political expediency is something we are starting to witness here. In contrast to the wholesale abandonment you may now be starting to experience the abandonment we see manifests itself largely in vacant business premises and a wrecked economy. All the best with your upcoming solitary confinement.

    • philberphoto says:

      Ian, I might say that your highlighting photgraphy as encompassing traits that can range from the narcissistic to the altruistic sounds bother very interesting and inspiring. Thank you so much from the stimulation!

  • You’ve captured the times so well, beautifully blending documentary and fine art photography. Bravo!

  • Jean-Claude Louis says:

    Masterful! Wonderful images, Philippe! Powerful photo speak, no need for words.
    No confinement over here in the US, no stay-home orders in the face of a galloping rate of transmission – only weak and lame “recommendations”, a total dereliction of duty by the governments, federal and local. For medical reasons (and a dose of common sense), I’m in self-imposed confinement since February; no ventures into public places, no mingling with crowds. My playground is limited to my backyard, the surrounding forest and the nearby beach. All unaffected by the pandemic.
    I would love to contribute to your Lockdown Diaries, but I’m afraid there wouldn’t be much in terms of a story and images to meaningfully contribute to your project.
    Stay safe, and sane :o)

    • philberphoto says:

      Jean-Claude, coming from you, words of praise mean a lot to me! Thank you! That said, lockdown only exists, as all things, beacuse un-lockdown exists as well -or better, one might/could/should contend- so you could document un-lockdown. Very much in line of DS DNA, that has coined un-postcards and un-destintions, inter alia.

  • Claude Hurlbert says:

    Philippe, what I appreciate in this post, besides the truly lovely textures and colors and tones of your photographs, and I do admire those, is the idea that history can be found in the moment. Look closely, your photos seem to say, and you will see widely. Examine the near, and you will see far. Examine the moment, and you may see history. The Lockdown Diaries, indeed. Every image here is, for one reason or another, an exquisite capture. Claude

    • philberphoto says:

      Claude, in another century you would have been prince of courtiers. You have a way with flattering and kind words that has few equals. Thank you! And I may avail myself of some of your eloquent wording. Again, many thanks!

  • Lani says:

    There is a quietness and stillness about your images that I think perfectly captures what this pandemic is doing to day-to-day exuberance. It’s stolen the apparent cheerfulness – which only means we have to look harder to find it. Which somehow implies, that it might be more meaningful in the end.
    I hope….

    • philberphoto says:

      Lani, to read our discussing the topic rather than the pictures is my early-morning treat. Thank you for that! As to finding the cheerfulness, this is a difficult suject because, on the one hand it does exist for us to find even in the harshest of circumstances. But OTOH displaying it wantonly would be offensive to those struck by the virus. But you have the grace and elegance to dance around such sinkholes without every falling….

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