Locked down

What a bizarre few weeks. We’re now 30 days into official lockdown in the UK, and it feels to me like some of the paralysis of the initial days of Covid-19 has started to loosen. I’m still working as a journalist – working at snail’s pace on a number of features for Big Issue North which for the large part have nothing to do with the pandemic – and am starting to get the sense that many people are getting into a groove with this strange new normal. People I contact are responding fairly promptly for the first time in weeks. My own work pace is glacial but things are slowly getting done.

One of the ways I’ve been responding to this weirdness is to pick up my camera. Ironically I’ve found the past month an easier time than normal to be creative – despite having a three year old and a five year old in tow most of the time. I’ve been photographing the lockdown on a daily basis from their perspective. Something that has always felt uncomfortably self-indulgent to me – sharing photos of my kids and our own daily life – suddenly feels more legitimate, perhaps due to some odd journalistic psychology thing because it’s now framed within ‘a story’. Make of that what you will. These daily vignettes – which I’ve dubbed “Big Brother House” can be seen on my Instagram page.

The other way I’m documenting the lockdown is through window portraits of people living in my neighbourhood of Levenshulme. Lots of photographers are doing similar work at the moment but I love the way the glass provides a beautifully surreal visual metaphor for our current social distancing requirements. The participants have to come close to the window to make use of the light. I’m often closer to them than the permitted two metres but they’re behind glass so it’s fine. I’m making most of these during my daily outing with my kids so I have to be quick – more than three minutes and they’re bored. Some of them are on my Instagram and the full album can be seen on Facebook for the time being. This will be updated as I add more…

Stay well.

 

Tech firms’ missing pension payments

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This is certainly the most involved story I’ve worked on to date… involved in a different way to my documentary photography projects, anyway. It took around five solid weeks of work, loads of interviews and cross checking of information, persuading people they could trust me and keeping them on board through the process. And working hand in hand with a media lawyer after receiving threats to sue me personally for libel and a pre-publication warning letter from a solicitor demanding that we drop the story. Oh and staff being threatened with legal action by the company if they spoke to me.

 

Sign language art project

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Last year I was lucky enough to get involved in a local arts project, in which we re-ran a collaborative project from about 20 years ago.  A school near where I live, Alma Park, is a specialist centre for deaf children – with pupils travelling from across Manchester to get support with their communication needs. They spend some time in mainstream classes as well and all children in the school learn some sign language. Years ago the school was involved in a community arts project in which photographs of children’s hands signing out the name of our neighbourhood – Levenshulme – were displayed at the local train station. These were up when I moved here in 2004, but the posters were eventually taken down after suffering water damage.

In 2019 the Friends of Levenshulme Station group decided to re-run the project and invited me to take part. We decided to involve only hearing-impaired children this time and in the summer term I spent a morning shooting 11 pupils’ hands. It then took a long time to get the funding from Northern Rail and other partners which we needed to print the images onto aluminium and there have been other delays while we’ve waited for permission to get onto the platforms and install the images. But now they’re there, along with a text celebrating the existence of Alma Park School’s deaf community, which mainly local people don’t know about.

Locked out for 13 years

Winston Brown was refused re-entry to the UK in 2006, when he tried to board a plane at the end of a trip to Jamaica. It took his family 13 years to get him back into the country. He is one of thousands of people affected by what has become known as the Windrush Scandal – well before the creation of the so-called Hostile Environment.

Click on the image to read the story on the Big Issue North website.

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Liverpool knife crime

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This is one of the saddest features I’ve written for ages. Mandy Jamieson lost her 16-year-old son Daniel to knife crime last year. Today she is trying to raise awareness of the problem through a grassroots campaign in Liverpool, Platform 4 Change. Click on the image above for the feature from this week’s Big Issue North.

Eccles shelter under threat – Big Issue North

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“This place offers a level of stability that many of us wouldn’t otherwise have. There are people in here who are willing and capable, they just haven’t been given the opportunities, for various reasons.

“We’ve got a lad in here who has been working full-time since Christmas, and he’s been able to hold that job down because of having somewhere to stay. Another resident has just found a local labouring job.

“We’ve got people who arrived, straight out of the doorways, holding a single plastic bag but now, thanks to donations from the public, they have managed to get some belongings – a few pairs of jeans, shoes and boxer shorts. These things make them feel a bit more human again. It doesn’t feel fair to strip them of their humanity all over again.”   Stacey Martindale


 

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