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Rachel Thornhill ABIPP ASWPP - "(The Lost) Summer Term 2020"

Panel captured 26th April - 2nd June 2020, in Lower Kingswood, Surrey, UK.

Monday 23rd March 2020 - Boris Johnson, UKPM issues the orders to ‘Stay at Home’

Thursday 23 April 2020

One month into lockdown. Normal routine, work, life had been on hold for 31 days. As a Portrait Photographer who adores her job, Lockdown left me lost. The wedding I was meant to be shooting that day had for obvious reasons been postponed, potentially for a year. My camera had been in my bag for 5 weeks, since my last day of shoots on the Saturday before lockdown.

Once the Stay at Home order had been given, my focus moved from my business to our two boys. Oscar was 7 about to turn 8, and Benjamin was 6 1/4. Although it felt like the Easter holidays had started early, it was clear that the school wanted to help support the children at home and encourage them to continue their learning. As homework had been minimal until that point for both of them, doing school work at home was quite an adjustment. The Judo competition that the boys had been training for at the end of March was cancelled, as was a long awaited Football Team Trip to Barcelona that Andy and Oscar were due to go on at Easter. And the trip I’d promised Benji to Alton Towers was off too, so for little boys obsessed with football and rollercoasters, it was a big disappointment in their minds. But I was determined to try and make the most of our newly enforced family time, and maintain some semblance of routine, and normality.

I work from home, running my photography business mainly when the boys are at school, and on Saturday mornings. Andy, my husband, is a Freelance Illustrator and Conceptual Designer, and until that point had been working for a couple of different design agencies in London supplying to predominantly the events industry. Luckily he was able to work from home (although the amount of work had reduced) and the upside was without commutes there was more Daddy time for the boys.

For a busy family with clubs, activities, playdates and get togethers, the first few weeks turned from being a novelty into an uneasy quiet. The usually crammed full family diary was now completely empty. The usual excitement of Easter, church activities, seeing friends and egg hunts was obviously missing, so when Easter had passed by, and school and any form of normality didn’t resume, our collective spirits dropped somewhat. The boys started to lose interest in our Family Zoom quizzes, FaceTiming their friends or even getting dressed in the mornings, and with little reason to leave the house apart from our daily walk, the new norm seemed somewhat like Groundhog Day. I had started to become concerned about the physical and mental impact lockdown would have on the boys, going from an active day at school to the much more sedentary days at home.

It was on the 23rd April that I had a chat with my mentor, Kevin Wilson FBIPP FSWPP FRPS. He could tell I was feeling somewhat down, and asked what I’d shot recently. Apart from a few snaps on my iPhone for my personal instagram, I hadn’t shot anything, not even touched my camera, because I felt I had no reason to. I capture memories for my Clients, moments in time that they can hang on their wall as beautifully framed heirlooms, to be enjoyed for many years to come. I always like to have a reason to shoot, having learnt over the many years I’ve had a digital camera that without that I just end up with hundreds of images sitting on hard drives not touched. It was then that Kevin asked about the boys, and what they had been up to. I told him about the Zoom Judo classes, the Zoom birthday party that Ben was invited to and the fun on our walks over Colley Hill. Kevin suggested that I took my camera out and captured a couple of portraits of them, for them.

My whole panel is shot with available light. All images were captured on my Canon 5D Mark IV, most were captured on a 24-70 f2.8 lens, with some outdoor shoots on a 70-200 f2.8 lens.

When I think back to when I was little, I often remember moments that also happen to exist in photographs. I remember the bench in Grandma’s garden, eating ice cream at the beach, climbing trees at Leeds Castle. However I’m not really sure if I’m remembering the times themselves, or the photographs. But I don’t think it matters, if photographs help our memories, then they are important. So from that conversation came an idea; Create a record of Lockdown through Oscar and Benjamin’s eyes. Photographs for them to look back on, to keep, and to show to their children in years to come, exactly as I say to my Clients that their children will do with the photographs I create for them. Until then, I never thought to create such a record for the two most important little people in my life. Why shouldn’t I create for our family the kind of memories that I create for my Clients?

Over the next few days, the idea grew. I began to look more closely at the children as they did their activities, study how the light changed through the day in the house. I drew up ideas for portraits that would fit together to represent this time for us all. As it meant shooting much of the project indoors and in our small space, I needed to use my 24-70mm f2.8 lens much more, shooting wider than my typical work. We have limited space at home, and I really had to find ways of making the most of that space to help keep the captures as true as possible, using the available light. And by choosing low view points, this emphasises the scenes from the point of view of the boys, making them more true to their experience.

I started off the project in my comfort zone, on a walk over the beautiful Colley Hill on the North Downs. This was the only time I used my 70-200mm f2.8 lens, and the first time in a while that I’d shot the boys. I really wanted to capture the cameradie that they had developed having spent so much time together over the previous weeks, and for that afternoon with the novelty of playing photoshoot, they happily obliged. When I reviewed the photographs on the computer afterwards, I couldn’t believe how much they’d grown, right under our noses!

Shooting indoors at home was more of a challenge. For my Clients, I tend to move things (with their approval of course!). Whether that is a chair, toys or even furniture, I’m pretty hands on to get the best picture possible. But because this was a record of the time, I fet things shouldn’t be moved, or prettied. It was much more of a reportage approach than I’ve been used to, but the right thing to do. Photographs or posters on the walls, toys in the garden, items on the dining room table, things on the worktops in the kitchen all needed to be included. So these became my layers, or frames. I did however ask the boys to move slightly where necessary, or open or close blinds. We’re lucky that we have a south facing garden, letting lots of light into the lounge, and both the boys’ rooms are directly above.

The project lasted almost 6 weeks, and finished at the start of June, on the day Benjamin (as a Year 1 student) returned to school. I captured around 50 portraits in the end, and together with Kevin, chose the 20 images that documented the full story of life in lockdown for Oscar and Ben.

The final part of the project was to convert the images to black and white. I adore using colour in my Client’s work, but this felt different. I wanted to emphasise that this was a change from my normal work, giving more of a focus on details and emotions. The impact of the images in monochrome became so much stronger.

What was intended as a personal project to practice my storytelling photography became a real passion project for me. I loved the challenge, having a reason to shoot really helped keep my spirits up. When I showed Kevin the bulk of the project and he said I should think about submitting for my A panel, I was completely taken aback. That was never the intention for these images; although true that I wanted to achieve my Associate qualification, not being able to work with my clients meant I presumed putting a panel together this year would be out of the question. Perhaps it shows that even in adversity, we can still move forward as artists, and when something is important to us, our energy can be harnessed to achieve things even though we have no idea how we might go about doing so.

I hope you enjoy this panel. With love, Rachel x


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