“When we look back at the spring and summer of 2020, I think this suit of images will be an iconic memory of this strange time we have all lived through”

Martin Parr, photographer 

Between March 19th – May 21st British photographer JJ Waller photographed more than 100 individuals and families from behind windows, doors, and balconies. The result is an exceptional testimony to the lived personal experiences behind the Covid 19 pandemic. 

“Via a simple, easily appreciated idea, I was privileged in gaining insight into many personal stories as far reaching as those experiencing the death of a relative, to the many who had found lockdown a fulfilling experience. For me it was an intense period of picture making that fated me to be out working when most people were locked down or self-isolating. Quite often I was a welcome interruption to the humdrum of the day.” 

Waller initially advertised his lockdown portrait project on social media and quickly had a few respondents. The uptake increased significantly after national newspaper, magazine, and television features. Waller was suddenly “getting calls from ‘everywhere’. I sensed the images were hitting the zeitgeist of the moment”. 

The images went on to appear as part of an HM Government / NHS public information film and in the title sequence of the BBC television drama series Unprecedented, a series of short dramas about the lock-down experience. Waller explains: 

“I call the portraits informal as they were made fairly swiftly whilst chatting (with me being outside). I was pleasantly surprised how people were very amenable to being directed by me. I’m sure this was because, underlying the process, we shared a vision that their portrait was an important historical record for both them, their families and for future generations.” 

The diversity of people’s experience is reflected in many quotes used in the book, these are often witty and revealing and occasionally very sad: 

“Saying goodbye to my dad via Skype before he died…surreal…heartbreaking…haunting.” 
Stephanie Leboz 

“We’re in a bubble, sometimes it’s a shield, sometimes a prison. We cook delicious food, laugh and sing and dance. Then we watch the news, shout, slam doors and cry.” 
Laura Hayward 

“Guilty secret I love lockdown. Like winning a special lottery. No money but time. Lovely time to relax just like a cat. Best holiday since I was a six years old.” 
Sian Lancaster

The images selected for the book were edited by Britain’s most widely celebrated photo-journalist Martin Parr. Waller explains: 

“Handing your edit to Martin Parr after eight weeks or so of taking photographs is ‘interesting’ to say the least. Parr’s years of experience and his keen eye mean he can build a group of pictures that inform on each other as a group, tell a story, impact an inherent truth, and communicate with visual strength. At colleges and universities where he has been a visiting lecturer his critiques are legendarily brutal. My main worry was if
he would find enough images he even liked. I need not have worried though. His edit I thought just brilliant.” 

JJ Waller’s Lockdown: Informal Portraits of This Time Photography by JJ Waller edited by Martin Parr, published by curious-publishing, £11.99, out 15th July.

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