Monday 6 March 2023

Why bother? Does anyone care?

Last week I was invited to do a talk about my exhibition ‘New Town Youth 1985’ to students studying Photography and Art. I was asked ‘what do you hope to achieve from your exhibition?’ I wondered if this was the veiled question ’why do you bother to take these types of pictures and try to get them seen?’ in short ‘does anyone care?’

This question had been troubling me too. But I think the answer has become clearer to me from a second, smaller outdoor exhibition ‘Overheard in Lockdown’ that is also simultaneously running in my local park. Here is the background.

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown February 2021, many had taken to daily exercise which was permitted under the rules. Like me, most of us had slipped into a routine same place, same time and often same conversation. Just about every day I would walk around Wanstead Park with my wife Verity. On one such walk I noticed as people passed the tendency was to give one another a wide ‘socially distanced’ berth and carry on with the conversation. I would often catch a snippet that had no context. I wondered what snippet of conversation others would hear from us. We were living in strange times so I decided to capture it. 

Charlie Collins and Ria Brennan ‘I think I am ready to jump ship’.

When I explained my new documentary project to my family, which was to stop people, tell them I had overheard their conversation and ask them to take their picture and add it to the caption their response was, ‘you’re mad and no-one will agree to that.’ 


Maybe people were attracted to a diversion from their routine or maybe they took pity on this madman with a camera, but everyone I asked said ‘yes’. So, a big thank-you to each and every one of you.

Dorothy Spence  and her daughter Louisa 'Retirement feels like a real privilege’.

Fast forward two years from the government’s February 22, 2021 announcement of the ‘Roadmap’ out of lockdown, so many of our priorities are now a fading memory. The extra care of vulnerable loved ones, daily death tolls, talk of vaccines and anti-vaxxers, social distancing, numbers limited at weddings and funerals, toilet roll shortages, binge watching, no travel and the boredom to name a few. What will never fade is the loss felt for loved ones who died during the pandemic.

Dog walkers Duna Hernandez-Sierra and Simon Bulpin 'Stanley’s the worst, eating dog poo that is still warm and fresh'.  

The concerns of the people in my story ‘Overheard in lockdown’ that were, at the time of utmost importance are now not really given a second thought.  Capturing this period of time was my motivation and the answer to that uncomfortable question.


On the day of the student talk I replied, in its simplest form, ‘I wanted to return images to the community that they were taken in’. A more complex examination of my thinking is that it’s my intention is to document and reflect back to my community an honest account of what might be considered ordinary and mundane to others but is important to the individual in the here and now.  


If you want to see the pictures and read the overheard comments from ‘Overheard in Lockdown’ you can click here or visit the exhibition at the Temple in Wanstead Park, London E11 until March 26, 2023. If you want to see ‘New Town Youth 1985’ you can click here or visit the exhibition at the Peterborough Museum & Art Gallery until April 16, 2023.   

Russell Boyce