A lot of people talk about “when things get back to normal”. There are things to be done that can’t happen until we get back to normal. It’s quite understandable of course, and I’d be surprised if anyone hasn’t uttered similar things at some point - I know I have.
But what exactly is normal? Will things ever really be the same again, and even if they were, should we really be “going back to normal” in the first place? So many of the social and environmental problems that already exist come from the flaws in this accepted normality - and anyway, like it or not, after our initial lockdown period there will be long-term implications coming out of this too. Perhaps we’ll have to learn to progress through life with a bit more flexibility. A more open-mind towards change, where we learn to embrace what we have - and adapt to our surroundings, as opposed to adapting our surroundings to us.
I always took it for granted that I could jump in a car, or on a train, or very occasionally a plane - and go somewhere new to explore and investigate with my camera. For the time being at least, that avenue is closed. I live in a small, countryside village, for which I consider myself incredibly fortunate - but it means street photography as I knew it is pretty much impossible. I can’t help wondering when things will be “back to normal” - will I be able to get on a train safely and go up to the West End, or the Tate Modern, and get some new shots without posing a risk to my own health or the health of others? And does it really matter if I can’t? On a sliding scale of importance in relation to everything going on right now, the ability of people like me to get on a train to London, or spend a while in a public place waiting for the perfect subject to complete a frame, has got to be pretty much bottom of the list. And as long as there is any such risk involved in it, as far as I’m concerned it’s out.
But not everything has changed. Our surroundings may be different, and our lives may have a different structure. But creativity is not cancelled. Art is not cancelled, and photography is not cancelled. Our cameras still work in exactly the same way they did before. We still have the same need for creative outlets. We might have extra time on our hands, and we might be spending more of that time in one place - but it’s still the same process of looking, from which all photographs are born. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a boring place to photograph, just places where we might have to look harder, or more abstractly than in others. We might be getting very different sorts of images, but the images will still come.
It was this thought that kick-started my “fake street photography” series. If I couldn’t visit the streets, then I’d bring the streets to me. I had a few figures from my father’s model railway, and by using strong shafts of natural light and arranging various household objects into my frame, I tried to create the illusion of a cityscape in my own home. My intention was to provide a level of surreal trickery, which is what I often tried to do in real streets back in pre-lockdown days. But here, I hoped the viewer would - for a split second at least - not realise they were actually looking at a scene in miniature. Or that the guy in the photo should actually be waiting on the platform for a model train.
In making my fake street photography series, I was simply adapting to changing circumstances in order to exercise some level of creativity. And, in their own individual ways, this is what many other photographers have also done - with much greater effect than me. I’ve begun to see all kinds of wonderful, genuinely creative new work being shared by other photographers confined to their homes.
Not only is this an encouragement and inspiration during times when, really, we need that more than ever - it also proves photography has not lost any of its potential in our current society. Street photography, as we know it, may be gone for now. But the very core of photography still remains as normal. It still records a story of our times, or simply alludes to the characteristics of an era from which it came. Right now, that’s as important as ever. In my own case, my miniature railway figures tell a story of my current state of social isolation. Your photographs - be they at home, or perhaps taken from the hip whilst queuing outside a supermarket - tell a story of yours. So the most important aspects of photography haven’t changed a bit. The surface might be different, but the photographer’s role in recording our lives, society, and all the details in-between, is just as important as it always was.
As normal, in other words.