Manu Brabo, Covid-19 Anxiety Project © Wellcome Manu likes the way that his dad acts as if nothing is wrong – like sitting around, vaping and watching a movie. He has always been good at hiding his fears, but Manu knows he has been scared. May 2020.

#10 Care

2020 was a year of unexpected changes and challenges. A year which we were forced to stop or to pivot direction. For some, 2020 allowed time to think, to reflect, to experiment or to change. It has also without a doubt highlighted how we care; for each other, for ourselves and for our communities. This issue of Photography+ explores photography in relation to care. We have published an exclusive conversation between photographer Peter Watkins and writer Oliver Shamlou, a conclusion to Watkin's series The Unforgotten‘to some future place where the centrality of this trauma is moved aside.’ Meanwhile, artist Othello De'Souza-Hartley  speaks to us about his practice and forthcoming projects, including a new self-portrait in his father’s empty bedroom. We are pleased to partner with Wellcome to bring you a creative writing response to their current commission The Covid-19 Anxiety Project. Read a new piece of writing by West Midlands based curator and writer Anneka French who, when looking at the images, shares how her own memories of lockdown are evoked, and poems come to her. We are excited to share new work by Murray Ballard, Zoe Childerley, Celine Marchbank and Helen Sear for CONNECT – the 3Ts hospital redevelopment public art programme at Brighton’s Royal Sussex County Hospital. Finally, delve in and enjoy the final essay by our 2020 Writer in Residence Marissa Chen: The Many Faces of Self-Care.

Wellcome has commissioned five photographers from five different countries for The Covid-19 Anxiety Project, which coincides with the submission period for the 2021 Wellcome Photography Prize which is free to enter and closes on January 18th 2021.

In the commission, Cait Oppermann ( Brooklyn, New York, USA), Hayleigh Longman (Harlow, Essex, UK), LindoKuhle Sobekwa (Thokoza, Johannesburg, South Africa), Manu Brabo (Gijón, Spain) and Tatsiana Chypsanava (Nelson, New Zealand) tell their stories and explore the mental health repercussions of isolation due to Covid-19.

Specifically, they have been tasked with answering the question: How are you, your family and your friends coping with anxiety related to Covid-19?

In partnership with Wellcome, we commissioned West Midlands based curator and writer Anneka French to write her creative response to The Covid-19 Anxiety Project.

Looking at the images, her own memories of lockdown are evoked, and poems come to her.

Chance, the yellow
Splashes to ground
Drip drops, lightly
Like apples falling.

Chance, the mouse
Crumb-hunted, trapped
Trip trops, stops
Where it fell.

Chance, the truth
Underneath, wing
Shouts loudly
Spit spots, wetly.

Chance, the kite
Pirouettes, pointedly
Sharing itself
Flip flaps, flatly.

Chance, death
Charms its way in
Right through the door
Chip chops
Right off the top
Chip chops
Off your head
Holds it in hand
In his dance.

*

Sun and shades of yellow. They suffuse Hayleigh Longman’s photographs in her small selection. A self-portrait shows her with eyes closed, freshly washed hair wrapped in a soft yellow towel, seated at a mirror in her mother’s bedroom. She holds her hand to her cheek – serene, weary, disbelieving. The same chores repeated infinitely. We know them so well. Soft yellow cleaning cloths appear in another image by Longman, bathed in garden light. A stack is held in someone else’s hand. I spot the cuff of a fluffy white dressing gown. Longman tells us the cloths must be folded and stored just so. Cleanliness, control and perfection are the order of the day.

then always afterwards a calm
that flattens out the body’s crease. (1)

In the summer we played in the paddling pool and with the garden hose. Luxuries, I know. We are lucky. “I squirt Nanny and Mommy with the hose,” he giggles, recalling that memory often. Yes. Thanks for that, son.

Longman’s seven-year-old neighbour has a paddling pool too. He lies face down in the water, ballooned black swim shorts glistening in sun, under the shadow of a tree.

And little one, in your watery world, in black and white, I see you drink your amniotic fluid, swallow it down in two big gulps. Clever boy. That skill will come in very handy when your time comes.

*

The photograph by Lindokuhle Sobekwa that strikes at my core is split in two: photographer on the left, reflected in a dressing table mirror; mother on the right. Mother sits on her bed, head in hand, legs straight out in front of her like a crumpled puppet. She looks like she is crying. They are separated and her pain is visible, scarcely bearable.

I stood my mother’s kitchen this year unable to comfort her as she cried. We were both frightened. I wanted to keep her safe. I did keep her safe. But at the cost of breaking her heart a little bit. A life without physical closeness is no life at all. Tears bind.

Lightning struck the telegraph pole next to our house this summer. The storm took out all power and fried our TV and internet. It took out next door’s hot tub. We were very lucky. We played with water the next day, ‘painting’ the wall with it.

*

Manu Brabo’s father paints with watercolours. Manu worries about this former radiologist, former chain-smoker. Understandably so. The urge to protect runs deep and runs both ways. I should like to see his watercolours.

*

A flannel in a Cait Opperman image. A damp one on the side of the sink (2). Blue this time, and water pouring through the sink, from tap to jug to plug in perfect crystal stream. Its companion image is Opperman’s partner in shadow, in profile, in heat and sun warmth. It is refreshing, intimate. I can feel it. In another, with bare shoulder and collarbone, I can smell the scent of skin, freckled and inviting, thin coral-red straps emphasised by cactus blush to left. Heavy shadows in each.

Sobekwe’s girlfriend and sisters amuse themselves with shadow puppets – dog and dove – to delight and suspend disbelief, if only for a moment.

One day I leave the bathtub running and it overflows.(3)

In another Opperman double – a clever trick – a blue and white facemask is flung into the air inside a room, echoing the form of the billowed moon banner fastened to a chain link fence to the left and the open sky. Palpable politics; pain and protest. Participation.

The boy shot down a silver slide. Like a human cannonball. Backwards. I laughed so hard, I couldn’t hold it in. And urine ran down my legs in perfect golden stream. I had to go and buy new clothes in M&S and beg the till assistant to let me use the toilet.

*

Jigsaw puzzles, Pringles, TV, burgers. Small markers of consumerism that afford us small pleasures. We are lucky. Tatsiana Chypsanava’s microcosms feel familiar. Sulking teenage daughters. Are they the same the world over? Her thirteen-year-old daughter Lola is captured next to another chain link fence. Caged, fed up, kept safe. In shadow and in sunlight.

In Sobekwe’s neighbourhood, children make play mats from discarded packaging. They have been at it a while from the looks of things. Contrasts.

*

There are no paddling pools today. A thick, crisp frost covers the garden and the pavements on our slip-slippy way to nursery; two boys in tow, in womb and hand.

 

(1)Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, Swims, London: Penned in the Margins, 2019, p. 54

(2)Cait Opperman, extended caption, The Covid-19 Anxiety Project, 2020

(3)Abi Palmer, Sanatorium, London: Penned in the Margins, 2020, p. 121

 

Anneka French is a writer and curator based in the West Midlands. 

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