10 April 2021
On the 23rd March 2020, the UK entered lockdown; a response to the growing coronavirus health crisis that had swept in from China. Almost overnight, our roads and cities fell quiet. Photographer Hannah Starkey’s response was to take to the streets of London and photograph the deserted city. The result is her series “London in Lockdown: photography of a pandemic struck city.” https://www.wallpaper.com/art/hannah-starkey-captures-london-lockdown-photography.
The photographs do indeed show a deserted city, the effect is accentuated by a lone cyclist; and even he is cycling out of the shot, heading home and never to venture out again. An anonymous girl, her identity hidden by a wooden balustrade, is reading a book while she waits for her coffee to cool. She looks out of context and we wonder how she could buy a coffee during the lockdown. She is a contradiction.
This is a city, it could be any city, the same scenes were repeated in capitals throughout Europe but what do the photographs tell us? At one level they are just a catalogue of empty street scenes and as such they are somewhat pointless. But maybe that pointlessness is exactly the point. The city is built by human to meet human needs and purposes. Take those humans away and the city becomes itself pointless.
I wonder if this set of photographs represents what lockdown meant to Hannah Starkey. She is much younger than me so will have a different view of the disease that affected the elderly so badly. Melodramatic I know, but I remember feeling if I left my house I would die of the disease. Now a year later, over 4 million cases later, 120,000 deaths later we are again in a lockdown.
American photographer Joel Meyerowitz documented another city in another crisis. New York after the destruction of the twin towers, an event that killed about 3000 people, was the subject of his book, “Aftermath: The World Trade Center Archive”. His dramatically lit photographs show us the devastation of the scene and the tirelessness of the rescue workers with an emotion that cannot fail to reach us. They in turn put me in mind of photographs of London during another crisis; the blitz. The subject of these photographs might be death and destruction, yet they nevertheless are full of life.
In contrast to these, Starkey’s lifeless picture of London in Lockdown are simply pictures of an empty city. In concentrating on this aspect of the disease, in taking the human element out, she completely misses the real human cost. They are so devoid of any emotion they trivialise the crisis that precipitated it.