The light has sunk into the earth
The image of Darkening of the Light
Thus does the superior man live with the great mass
He veils his light, yet still shines.
— Hexagram 36, “I Ching or Book of Changes.”
“Wow, yours is a photographer’s fridge!” a friend of mine said loudly from the kitchen when he went to get milk for the coffees. No wonder, there was more film in it than food. It must have been only a few days before the lockdown was established in England at the end of March 2020.
“Homo homini lupus est.”
It all happened so quickly. Suddenly the supermarket shelves were empty. Lots of people started to react angrily. The Latin proverb of “homo homini lupus est,” or “man is wolf to man” that I learnt in political science lectures years ago, seemed to ring true. In February and March, I did most, although not all, of my personal photography with a digital body and a pancake lens. It was the most inconspicuous and silent way to photograph.
In late March, the Prime Minister went on TV to tell us that lockdown had been declared, though he did not strike me as being very much much into it. A few days later, he got sick.
Will we all get sick? I wondered with apprehension. It also became obvious very soon that countries with populist governments were faring worse in this health crisis. Life in lockdown began under a very dark cloud. It must have felt similar, I thought, when the Chernobyl radioactive cloud reached parts of the British Isles decades ago. You could not see it, and yet it fell as nuclear rain.
The first three weeks were probably the most disorienting ones for me. Getting over the shock that the world I took for granted had changed so much was not easy. On the news, they began churning the single topic of the pandemic. Days dragged on. Sundays and Mondays felt the same. The future looked shapeless; I focused on the practicalities of the everyday and caught up with developing the rolls that had been piling up for weeks.
Life at a standstill.
Part of the “stay home” message was to shop for food only once a week. Room had to be made in the fridge for the groceries, so film was mainly squeezed into the top shelf. The diet changed. It seemed that supermarket-wrapped food made the most sense — as those packs could be sanitized upon arrival at home.
What’s in the fridge?
There are websites and articles in the specialized press about what’s in a photographer’s bag. I posit that if they are analogue photographers, their fridges can deliver a portrait or self-portrait of the person. The fridge contents tell us about photographic habits and pursuits.
A dreamer by day.
When the situation outside was particularly awful, and I felt inundated by the bad news both from home and from the country where my parents live, I decided to give less of my energy to the bad news. I was not ignoring what was going on. We all had to know. It is essential to know, but there is no need to be overwhelmed by the news.
My cameras helped me begin to concentrate on my surroundings, the home. I began to dream more during the day. Opening the fridge, seeing the boxes and the tins of film encouraged me to think about what I wanted to do. The physical materiality of film, even packaged and sealed, feels particularly tactile and “real.”
During lockdown I purchased a rather expensive memory card for one the digital bodies I use for paid jobs. However, buying it did not feel the same as buying film — I can imagine much more easily the potential in a roll of film than with a new memory card.
I started seeing the fridge as a treasure trove. Opening it and seeing the film in there became a rewarding way to self-affirm my commitment to the projects I was outlining.
I am always on the lookout for film. There are stories connected with some of the rolls. Last year I purchased a few metres of 35 mm colour motion picture film, leftovers from a movie shot around ten years ago — a film I used for some of the photographs in this article. Then there’s another ECN-2 stash with an incredibly low ISO rating. There is also an ISO 800 colour negative film I plan to use for a street project in London in winter, when days are darker and the hours when you could use lower speed emulsions are non-existent. And a box of ISO 50 chrome film for an architectural photography idea I have been thinking about for some time. And some orthochromatic film for a portrait session to render skin tones at least a stop darker. The list is long.
When I lived in Moscow in the late 1990s, the divide between the cleanliness of the home and the pollution in the street was clear — a family home felt almost like holy ground. You would acknowledge this by taking off your shoes to enter the private realm. During the lockdown, such perceptual contrast between the “dirty” outside world and the “clean” home became increasingly apparent.
So I moved across the divide gradually. I began photographing indoors. I photographed the windows and windowsills.
Then I photographed from the windows.
Then I photographed a detail of a neighbouring building; I photographed the tube lines I see from my flat.
Endurance and fatigue.
After the lockdown’s ease, most English continued adhering to the laws meant to prevent further infections. The protest I photographed in Trafalgar Square on 30 August was not well-attended. Still, some showed up. Those people may be acting irresponsibly, though it seems that some of this is on the authorities. Perhaps the “reopening” could have been planned better, better messaging.
In England, many people lost their lives in the pandemic. Many families are in bereavement. The situation is dreadful.
The resulting emergency lockdown led me into lengthy introspection. At the end of which, I resolved that no matter what is going on outside, I should concentrate on the changes I can make. To try and look at things differently.
The pandemic isn’t over; still, it is time to become aware of the possibilities and start imagining the world afresh.
The quotation at the top is from: “I Ching or Book of Changes,” the Richard Wilhelm translation rendered into English by Cary F. Baynes with a foreword by C. G. Jung, London: Arkana, Penguin Books, 1989, p. 140 .
I am a late arrival to digital. At the end of 2012, I acquired my first pro-level data body, and this marked the beginning of a period of about five years in which I only used digital equipment. I revisited film photography in 2017—a new project required that I source a film body. I ended up re-acquiring a model that had been one of my favourites before I began shooting digitally. A few more film cameras followed that purchase.
I should mention, however, that I do not consider myself a nostalgic person. I am very happy that digital equipment does, in fact, exist. My goal at the moment is to embrace both types of gear in my photography.