A Month of Sundays

‘A Month of Sundays’ is an ongoing project made in direct response to the global Covid -19 Pandemic, beginning on the first formal day of imposed ‘Lockdown’ in the UK on March the 23rd, 2020. 

The images are sourced from publicly accessible webcams spanning the globe, from sites of historical and cultural importance, to those designed to monitor for security, traffic flow and weather conditions. 

At first the focus of the images was on the unnatural stillness and absence of human habitation and movement, an approach which mimicked mass media imagery – the empty streets of previously bustling cities and sites. However, it became apparent that the points of real interest within each scene were actually the people that did remain. Sanitation workers, police enforcement, medical staff and the general public exercising could be seen to varying numbers.In some territories more clearly enforced rules were in place, in others civilian numbers would drop over a matter of days as the severity of the situation increased. As the webcams of many Asian countries began to show signs of repopulation, European locations emptied. The uncanny appearance of a deserted St Peter’s Square, or 5th Avenue has all the visual allure of post apocalyptic cinema, but for me, the sight of any human activity became the draw and lead to an obsessive daily trawl of the webcams of the world.

23 3 831am time square key workers test run
New York 23/03/2020 8:31am

jubilee square leicster 24 03 1247pm peopled

Leicester   24/03/20   12:17

The process of eliminating visual signifiers of location and place serves several purposes: The individual becomes highlighted and scrutinised, dress, body language and behaviour all become intensely interesting, not to mention the proximity to other humans. Often, in environments where previously a sole person would be difficult to pick out in a sea of human activity, their presence in the emptiness can now be beacon like and take on a fascination that in more predictable circumstances would seem throughly banal. Parallel to this is the fact that, increasingly, there is a tension that now bubbles beneath the intersection of two or more humans within a given space. This leads to a very different lens from which to view the world, one that is mirrored in the growing sense of civilian self policing. The retooling of Neighbourhood Watch as ‘lockdown’ espionage and quick judgement of the actions of others. To some extent, in producing this work, I have become, in part, a virtual ‘curtain twitcher’. It becomes all too easy to wonder ‘What are you doing, why aren’t you at home?,’ condemning from afar with the mantra of “Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” reverberating around the mind. The removal of landmarks also highlights that a virus is largely indifferent to geography, grandeur, history and wealth, an iconic location is subject to the same rules as the most mundane – and the nature of the webcam means that the Colosseum of Rome is viewed through the same grainy digital window as small town Canada. This vacuum of visual information also provides a guessing game of dimensions and architecture as people navigate an invisible terrain, like a snow blanketed L.S. Lowry painting. 

madrid puerta del sol 24 3 2348pm peopled
Madrid   24/03/20   23:47
seoul 24 3 813am peopled
Seoul   24/03/20   8:13
brighton pier 25 3 1549pm peopled
Brighton   25/03/20   15:39
abbey road london 25 3 905am pedestrian test
London   25/03/20   9:05
lagos 25 3 1550pm peopled
Lagos   25/03/20   15:50
times square 27 3 1900pm peopled
New York   27 03   19:00
milan station 28 03 2207 people cutout
Milan   28/03/20   22:07

By using webcams as a source material, the imagery is  intrinsically linked to the aesthetics of power, authority and surveillance. The limited fidelity, elevated viewpoint and sometimes roving view lend a sense of voyeurism. When looking at these stripped back scenes of road crossings in Chicago or Moscow in motion, one is struck by the act of observing real people, unaware of their observation from afar. Each person pictured is living through a shared global experience while going about their governmentally mandated activities. Conversely there is a striking similarity to the act of being part of a simulation or programmed experience, each person perhaps a scripted AI construct akin to the ‘civilians’ of a Grand Theft Auto game. Indeed, in considering and representing this unique and somewhat synchronous global event, there is a balance to be struck between the narrative of the individual, many of whom will be tragically affected by the spread of the virus and that of the ‘bigger picture’; people as statistics and data.

dublin 29 03 1641 peopled
Dublin   29/03/20   16:41
abbey road london 29 3 1642pm peopled
London  29/03/20  16:42

While making the images, which is a daily process, it has been difficult to maintain a balance between a photographer’s instincts and a more objective approach of taking a scene as it is. As the project continues more time becomes dedicated to the pursuit of a Cartier Bresson like ‘decisive moment’ which perhaps overtly aestheticises the situation. That’s not to say that the scene ‘did not happen’, but by deliberately prioritising the visually interesting or compositions which tell more of a story, one could be said to be asserting a sense of authorship over a form of machine vision, whether this is desirable or not.

This project, drawn from literal ‘viral video’ streams is intended to serve as an alternative document to what we are persistently told are challenging, uncertain, unprecedented times.

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