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Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Week 4: The first coronavirus book?

Gosh, JimminyCricket, Gee Whizz, how many weeks in are we now. In the UK, it's the fourth week, and it's dragging through the most beautiful spring anyone can remember.

In photography, there's new work being made. Lots of work is being made around online conversations - Skype and Zoom and Whatsapp portraits.

I'm working on these with Asia Werbel, on an Instagram account called @12smallpieces. It's fiendishly difficult because for me the images themselves are really not that interesting. It's the global reach of coronavirus that is interesting and the way it is affecting people in ways that can be very quiet.

So I love the stories where little glimmers come across of something that reaches beyond coronavirus. I like this piece from Sarker Protick about Emily Wabitsch, who became pregnant after a fun night out in November, and is now waiting for the coronavirus to end. "Last 11/11 I pretty much twisted my life upside down due to one beautiful thoughtless night. I forgot to take care of almost everything after that, except for my sleeping hours."

Or this one by Vincen Beeckman about Charlotte, who tells her life story in a couple of hundred words. "If you want to know everything, my life is a joke, a big joke. With two or three hiccups. Let's go. I had happiness, I had everything. A good job, good health and never sick!
I got married at 21. With a boy of 23. A postman. He drank with his colleagues after work and was violent so I left...." And so it goes on.

If you know someone who has an interesting story to tell, do get in touch.

I don't know if these kinds of projects do much good, or if they are much good, but that's perhaps beside the point. They are an escape from the coronavirus inertia, and that's what matters right now. We all need distractions because Netflix and the online world are not really that interesting.They really are not a substitute for 3-dimensional, sensory life.

And so the visual representation goes on -  masks, empty squares, singing neighbours (nobody's showing their absolute fucking nightmare neighbours), clean air, and video conferencing images still pop up in the news.

Online there are re-enactment of art works, pictures of home schooling, exercise, park walks, cooking, gardening, allotments, homemade haircuts, DIY gone wrong, fashion shows, dressing up and cocktail hours. I have suddenly discovered that I have been doing isolation pictures for years, so that's what I've started posting on my Instagram account. There is nothing new under the sun, instead meanings shift, new connections are made, and something new emerges out of it. That's why every story hasn't been told, even when the story has been told. The story, like the song, never remains the same.

There are still pictures of shops, queues (below is the longest queue I've had to face at my local Morrisons, a picture taken at every social distancing mark), the tape marks and the vernacular posters of social distancing are getting a look in, and there are lots of pictures of nature, of walks, of people far away, of whatever everyone is doing to pass this tedious time. There are countless projects showing people in their windows or doorways. Especially if they're smiling, with fortitude. These are my pet hate. I can't stand them. My pet hate would be pictures of people on Skype or whatever, but I'm doing one of those, so it can't really apply.

Not many are very good, but then that's not really the point. Being very good is rarely the point.

Some are doing it for fun, some are projects, some are fundraisers, some just to take one's mind off things. There's a bunch of books that are being planned, but how much of an appetite there will be I don't know. There will be the window books, the queue books, the screengrab books. There will be photojournalistic surveys, there will be old school piles of bodies books once it really gets going. There will be books which come with a medical textbook typeface with scans and data, there will be mask and glove books in a variety of forms, there will be still lifes and typologies, all grids and white pages, there will be books with graphs and statistics, there will be multiple AI books, and even more books with a surveillance theme (and one of them will be really good). God help us, what else?  I am looking forward to an Ed Ruscha type sequence of people queuing, that might be cool, or a graphic one of all the dashes of tapes, splashes of paints, and scrawls of chalk marks people are using to redefine personal space - it's like the Enclosures Act and Agriculture Revolution all over again, but instead of walls and hedgerows, we've got post-industrial striped markings in red and white and yellow and black.

But images are not fixed, they change over time, so it will be interesting to see what is/will become relevant and important in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years time. A lot of what will be relevant is what we take for granted now.

One of the first photobooks that will come out is Novis Corpus,  a book made by mostly Southern European photographers that is a paean to the enforced domesticity and confinement of the time, and is raising

This is what Tereza Uzeda and Gabriela Cendoya Bergareche came up with; Novis Corpus , the book, is about confinement, and it has been made in less than a month. Next week it will go to the printer. The pre order of the book has  already sold about 400 copies! The book is completely self published. And all benefits will go to nursecarers working hard to save the people.

It looks great and proceeds go to the charity, so if you would like to buy a copy,

email librocuarentena@gmail.com

The most interesting thing for me right now is the psychological impact of coronavirus. I find myself talking about PPE, about isolation, about clusters, about quarantine times with unrelenting repetition and I wonder where all this comes from. I didn't talk about this or think about this four months ago, I didn't know what covid-19, PPE, intubulation, or social distancing meant.

Now every time I use those words it makes me aware of the suggestibility we all have. It's like our brains are occupied (by some hugely contradictory and incompetent creature), and we are spouting complete and utter nonsense that changes from one week to the next with no real attachment to anything other than some weird form of group psychosis fed by every unreliable news channel under the sun. All of us who are staying at home are absolutely a part of this. And it's not necessarily a bad thing to be part of - there are plenty of other psychoses at play that you really don't want to be part of because a) you will be surrounded by awful people, and b) you might  very well end up sick and dead.

How will that mental state be visualised, how will it connect across time to the images we make, to the countless graphs, statistics, warnings, and etchings that we see all around us and that become part of a barely remembered history so quickly. I look back at a blog post from a few weeks back and it seems a lifetime ago, the graphics both so innocent, but also even more of a figment of a fevered design imagination than they were at the time. I wonder what we'll be looking at in a few months time. It will bear little relationship to what we're seeing now, of that I am sure.

And so we continue on our corona obsessed way. In the meantime news is happening, all smothered by coronavirus. And maybe that's the real news.

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