Pandemic Photography

It’s been a bit of a weird time, hasn’t it? This might be as good a time as any for me to reflect back on the last three years (how has it been that long?) of life being nothing like we expected.

At the start of 2020, Australia was about half way through one of the worst bushfire seasons we, and perhaps the world, had ever seen. Enormous tracts of forest on the east coast were burned, with fires stretching from Victoria to Queensland and hundreds of kilometres inland. Some areas burned twice, as the first fires through moved so quickly through the forest canopy that they left enough fuel for a second pass only a few weeks later. I read that billions of animals were killed. Bushfire smoke choked the skies for months and got us a little bit used to the idea of facemasks. Life was more pleasant indoors, because the air outside was routinely poor; even when the wind blew in from the sea, it would often be blowing the smoke from a few hundred kilometres down the coast back inland. Our family Christmas in Canberra was shrouded in thick smoke that blew in from the coast and settled in the valley, and our return to Sydney ran the gauntlet between two enormous and fast-moving fires. When the rains came in February and the fires were finally doused, the relief was more than welcome, and just in time for our still-anxious minds to turn to the virus that was starting to raise concerns overseas.

Canberra bushfire smoke, Christmas 2019
Bushfire smoke settled in Tuggeranong Valley, Canberra, around Christmas 2019. There is usually a very clear view of the distant Brindabella Ranges from this vantage. Nikon FG, Series E 50mm f/1.8, Lomography CN 800.

For the first few weeks of the covid lockdown, I never took a camera out. At that point, the health advice was that washing hands was the best protection – it wasn’t yet known to be airborne – but cameras are harder to sterilise than hands, so taking them out seemed like a risk. And with a boisterous toddler inside, fascinated by everything in his parents’ hands, there was little chance to document indoors life. After a few weeks inside, with the shock of the situation subsiding, the lack of the hobby felt more and more pronounced.

Stuck inside, 2020
Lockdowns involved a lot of inside play and video calls. Minolta XE-5, Rokkor 50mm f/1.7, Arista.EDU 100.

As the months passed, lockdowns came and went in response to outbreaks here and there, between which the closed borders and quarantines kept the health impact of covid comparatively small. The social impact was much, much larger. As we realised the virus was airborne, the local parks and public spaces became an extension of the home (even when the playgrounds remained closed). A council clean-up early on was like a street party, a bazaar of all the large and unusual things our neighbours had put out on the street for garbage collection; everyone had ample time to clean out their cupboards and sheds, and it was the first time we had legally seen masses of people near each other in months. I scored a couple of non-working cameras from a box one of the neighbours put on the street. Anyway, along with getting outside more, I started taking more photos.

Pandemic playground, Sydney, 2020
Closed playgrounds meant our time in parks was spent exploring the woods and gardens and lawns. Not all bad. Minolta XE-5, Rokkor 50mm f/1.7, Arista.EDU 100.

When we finally got vaccines after various procurement blunders had been ironed out, and we could start to see people again, we did so cautiously at first, but gladly. Then our daughter came along and life got yet busier, just as our state government changed, opened everything up, and covid rates took off. Lockdown became a matter of personal preference, and I did prefer it for a while. But over time, by degrees, I am getting used to getting out.

Getting out again
Getting out again. Nikon FG, Series E 50mm f/1.8, Arista.EDU 200.

That seems like a drastic abbreviation of the last two years, but the time since things started to open up has blurred into a new and normal routine, and the concerns of the pandemic have (mostly) made way for the concerns of parenthood. Life is busier and more cautious, but a bit less acutely threatening. Work and home life are good, and while they afford less time and space for hobbies, or even for taking photos of the day to day, I think that’s normal for this phase.

On the road again
On the road. Nikon FG, Series E 50mm f/1.8, Kodak Ektar 100.

Stay safe, everyone. And don’t forget to take your camera.


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