Covid 19 has affected us all in ways that we could not have imagined only a year ago. Uncertainty and anxiety haunt the cells of our home made penitentiaries. Health, both mental and physical, relationships and finances are all under strain caused by an unprecedented global crisis. Fear and angst have settled as a narrative, streamed into consciousness through the devices that many now have ample time to indulge. To scroll through the dark clouds of information is a subjugation of wellbeing that is so far out of our influence that all we can do is ride it like a raft without oars.
But what if there were some silver linings to the storm clouds of experience, reasons that the situation that we find ourselves in could enrich and positively affect the lives of those fortunate enough to benefit from these strange times.
As a photographer it is part of my work, and my life to explore current issues visually, to maintain my practise and to keep my work current and relevant. The same can be said for other photographers as well as the millions of users of social media platforms using imagery to transcribe and detail lives into a visual narrative. We have seen a tsunami of imagery detailing the effects of the restrictions on our lives. A lot of the images that I have seen explore the ideas of isolation and separation that many are experiencing, others explore the hardships faced by front line workers, in between these images there are also images of love, hope and joy.
In deciding to photograph some of the 76,000 young families who had given birth during the lockdown I was setting up a project to explore the difficulties of an already life changing experience during a time that took away much of the support that normally goes towards helping in those first weeks and months with a new born. My thoughts went to people who couldn’t see their families, grandparents unable to help and share their experiences, dads unable to be in the hospitals during birth and couples being sent home to small flats with no space and no experience of being first time parents, in a world that felt like it was crumbling around us.
I am sure that all of these ideas of what I thought the experience would have been like were true for some, and probably even worse than this for others, however the people who responded to my calls for subjects to be part of a small project had, in the majority, had a positive experience. I may have only reached a small cross section of families and circumstances, but as I spoke to families and they shared their stories and their experiences I realised that there were reasons why an event like this pandemic, whilst being a really difficult time for many, could also bring opportunities and moments to people who could benefit from the new normal that they brought.
Reyhan and Jack Gladstone had their baby Aphra on the 16th of march, just before the official lockdown began.
‘Lots of people told us that when you have a baby, the three of you hunker down and form your own little bubble anyway. So in a way, it was a great excuse to really embrace that and make the most of the bonding time with no interruptions. We were able to shut out the outside world because we had such a big distraction.
At the end of the day, we feel so lucky to have our darling little girl in our lives and my mum tells me every day that she has been a beacon of light and hope from day one. Knowing Aphra exists in the world has made every day feel worth it, even on the darkest of days. I know that multiple family members have struggled at times since March, but they say that the thought of Aphra has always pulled them through and made them feel happy and at peace. It's a sad, strange time for us all, and being a parent is full of anxieties at the best of times, but she really has filled a place in our hearts that we never knew was empty and we just hope that as she gets older, the world will be a better, easier place.’
The experience of the people that I was meeting was very different from the one that I had projected when thinking about the subject. Families told me of their joy felt in being able to spend time together as a new family. Work and commitments may have traditionally pulled apart this early time together. Not having visitors took pressure off, and there was time to adjust to the new routines and adjustments needed during a big change in their lives. The emergence of zoom and our increasing acclimatisation to remote contact though technology put people in control of their interactions and their time.
The standardised mean age of mother at childbirth was 30.7 years and has been gradually increasing since 1973 when it was 26.4 years and this figure is higher in London where many of the families that I shot were based. There may be a comfort and a confidence that this added maturity brings that meant that families were more prepared for the isolation and the life changes that were enforced on them. Or it may be that the joy and love of bringing a new life into the world overrides and tints the otherwise dark clouds with a glowing hope for the future, and a joy and pride in the present.
For me it was a lesson that not all is as we sometimes expect it to be, and although I am sure there are many stories and difficult experiences where I have found positive ones. We often find advantages in unpleasant situations, and as humans we have an incredible ability to find silver linings.