Last year wasn’t a normal year but this time twelve months ago many of us were hardly aware of what was to come. At the best it would be a disturbing year, stuck indoors and isolated, riding the highs and lows as the pandemic ebbed and flowed.
This was how 2020 was for me in twelve photographs.
In January 2020 I was more worried about hanging photographs and serving finger food for the opening of my exhibition, “Riding to the end of the Road” than I was about a new virus emerging in China.
One rainy evening in February I was heading home from work on the top deck of a bus, and I was struck by the effects of the raindrops and the lights of the vehicles ahead. I quickly took a few photographs on my phone. That was probably the last time I have ridden on a bus.
In March, as the first lockdown in the UK began and photography had become an indoor activity. I turned to self-portraits and still life. For the latter I hunted out some old bicycle components to photograph. It became a welcome distraction to focus on setting up and lighting the objects and for a while I was lost in the details of old pedals, derailleurs and brake blocks.
April brought Easter tide, an opportunity to get out and about. Not this year.
In May, tentatively, I began to cycle a little further afield. In the UK we had always been allowed to exercise, and cycling was encouraged. I rode to the outskirts of London and came upon this ancient yew tree in a churchyard. Allegedly it has grown for more than 2000 years. It has seen so much.
Stuck indoors for long periods of time I began tidying the flat. In the process I came upon a box of old 35mm slides taken when I started photographing back in the 1970s and 80s. They were mostly of the Dorset countryside and coast where I grew up. Somehow I had carried this box of slides through my life and I thought I would repurpose them. If I could not travel physically in space, then I would travel in time with my memories.
As the summer wore on and optimism grew that the world would soon return to some degree of normality (a misplaced optimism in the event) I began to cycle a little further. The great thing about cycling is that it can be a self-contained activity; it is transport and exercise combined. You just need to make sure that you are prepared for the ride, and your bicycle is well maintained. In July I travelled further out of London and picked up on a project I had started a year or two ago.
On visits to country churches I had been struck by the corners of the churchyards where the watering cans and recycling bins were usually stored. To me they represented the practical aspects of grief and remembrance. It is a subject I hope to return to, so look out for more photographs on this theme in the future.
Then in August I travelled the furthest I had done since the beginning of January. This was to Dorset to spend two nights camping under the socially distanced stars. I was able to see some of my family, and take a few photographs, including this one of a group of paddle boarders tentatively testing the water in Weymouth Bay. It represents how many of us felt throughout 2020.
One of the positives for me of the year was the growth in the number of people cycling. Public transport such as buses which push people together became very unpopular. Driving allowed people to isolate but would gridlock the streets. Alternatives needed to be found and many local authorities began to build pop-up bike lanes to encourage more people to try cycling. In September I took these photographs of cyclists using the bike lane on Pancras Road. It was a Sunday afternoon and there was a steady stream of cyclists in both directions.
In October I went for one more long distance bike ride, this time out to the Cambridgeshire Fens. It was train assisted at a time when the trains were very quiet and you could get a whole carriage to yourself. I have always loved the Fens as much for the wide open skies as the land itself.
Then in November came the next lockdown in England.
I did experience some joy that month when I received notification that I had become a Licientate of the Royal Photograpic Society.
In December there were unrealistic hopes for a slightly more relaxed Christmas. Sadly, the virus does not take holidays, so many of us spent Christmas in a strange and isolated world. As I decorated the flat for the holidays I sought escape, as before, in photographing the detail.
And here we are in 2021 where I should end with something more positive. There are a range of vaccines available now which are beginning to be administered, but there are also new variants of the virus appearing. To find hope I return to that picture of the ancient yew tree and a reminder of what it might have seen in the 2000 years it has stood there. It has seen the darkest moments but it has also seen the brightest of times. It is a bit of a cliche but holding onto that thought is a comfort.
In the meantime I will continue to make photogaphs and publish some of them here for you to see.
Best wishes for 2021.