A professional photographer has beautifully captured moments of hope amidst the loneliness and isolation felt by many during the coronavirus lockdowns.
Tony Fisher, 66, from Riddings, Derbyshire, came up with the idea for a photography exhibition on loneliness before lockdown, and was given the go-ahead from the Arts Council to take a series of portraits and nature photographs exploring the theme of isolation.
But since lockdown measures to tackle the spread of COVID-19 came into force in March, and again in November, the subject has become even more meaningful.
“I thought it would be a good idea to find something that would challenge me, rather than just doing landscapes,” he explains.
“But since starting on the project it has really evolved. Some people with a dark sense of humour think I invented COVID so I could do the project,” he jokes.
Loneliness is an issue that has been greatly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the UK, a report by the ONS found that 4.2 million adults now feel “always or often” lonely, a significant rise from 2.6 million in early March.
Fisher says it was actually his own experience of loneliness that sparked the idea to explore the theme within his photographs.
In the mid-1990s, Fisher’s wife died of motor neurone disease (MND), and a short time later both his parents died within the space of a few months.
The succession of tragedies led to Fisher suffering from mental health issues including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and he credits art for “saving his life”.
Despite the sad nature of the topic, Fisher says he hopes the images he has taken for a series of exhibitions called Only the Lonely? have “helped” and “uplifted” both himself and his subjects.
“On Facebook people said they had lifted their spirits, which is nice to know,” he explains.
“There are a lot of challenges ahead of people with winter time and Christmas, but there are little glimmers of light where people spark up conversations and make it more bearable.”
He’s also learnt that loneliness is something that can impact everyone.
“It’s not just about old people being lonely it is about people of all ages, backgrounds and diversities,” he adds.
The project has been extended until 2022 and more portraits will be added to current displays as time goes on.
“Loneliness and isolation are not just things that happen in pandemics they happened before and they will happen afterwards,” he adds.
We asked Fisher to pick some of the images he feels best capture the emotions of 2020.
The Belper Moo
Though he was initially travelling nationwide to take the images, as lockdown restrictions were imposed Fisher was forced to work more locally.
One assignment saw him visit the town of Belper, Derbyshire, around 8 miles away from Fisher’s sheltered accommodation.
The town had come up with a novel way of battling loneliness during lockdown by asking residents to come together for a two-minute cattle chorus.
Every evening at 18.30 locals would gather on their doorstep or lean out of the window to moo like a cow.
“It was a wonderful thing for people to organise during lockdown,” Fisher says of the event.
Though undoubtedly quirky, Fisher says there was a serious side to the Belper Moo in that it brought people together as a community.
“It helped to ease the loneliness for some people who had been stuck inside all day to make them feel part of something bigger,” he explains.
Watch: Feelings of loneliness significantly increased during coronavirus lockdown.
The Belper Moo lasted for 83 consecutive days.
One of the images that stands out for Fisher is that of Jeannette Jackson blowing the horn to sound the opening “moo”.
Jackson says the project, and Fisher’s photographing of it, really helped to lift the mood in the town and help people feel less isolated.
“It was a project to reach out to all those in the community living with the solitude of lockdown during the pandemic,” she explains.
“Seeing Tony's photos of that memorable time makes me smile. He perfectly captured precious memories in the midst of intense anxiety and sadness.”
Camper van love
During lockdown Fisher took a series of images of people looking through windows, asking them to hold something or do some sort of activity that conveyed what was helping to keep their minds busy, or represented a comfort or dream for when lockdown ended.
The idea was to convey a sense of hope, in the midst of loneliness, that things wouldn’t always be this way.
As part of that collection, Fisher photographed Stewart Cox who was confined to his house because of various medical conditions.
“He chose to hold up two model camper vans in the image,” Fisher explains. “Camper vans are his passion, and it represented how he couldn’t wait until he could leave his house and get back to travelling again.”
At the Boundary
Fisher’s photographs have also helped capture people’s personal struggles with isolation during lockdown and what helped keep them going.
“I took one photo of a lady, Denise Tucker, who had not left her house for 13 weeks because of a medical condition,” he says.
“She was shielded for all that time and she couldn’t go out.”
Fisher says it was Tucker’s love for her garden and her dogs, George and Jess, which really helped her get through the isolation period and he captured this by photographing her stood at the door with one of the dogs at the gate.
The image has since been featured in the lockdown collection in the Historic England archive.
Knitting for the NHS
Donna Hawkins was also forced to shield in order to protect her father, who was considered vulnerable to COVID-19. Fisher photographed her at home knitting, having joined the Matlock Bath Sewing Group, a group of volunteers, during lockdown.
“We wanted to do our bit to help the key workers in any little way we could,” she told Fisher.
“We started off making scrub bags, then graduated to making scrubs which were sent to the local care homes. Later, we were contacted by Ashgate hospice to make pairs of hearts which could be shared with the resident and a close family member, who they weren’t able to be with.
“That’s what I’m knitting in the picture.”
Kris Katchit is a street entertainer who has been travelling the the country since the 1980s.
He normally performs as a stilt walker, juggler, circus skills teacher for corporate events, weddings and private parties but this year, due to COVID-19, all his work has dried up.
Fisher photographed Katchit at the window of his house eating fire.
“I wanted to depict something which he might be doing if this were a normal year and this seemed to be an appropriate theme,” Fisher explains.
Only the Lonely? can be seen at a number of locations, including Royal Derby Hospital, the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham and The Arthouse in Wakefield, but also on Tony Fisher’s Facebook page.