The #massisolationFORMAT project was launched by QUAD and FORMAT International Photography Festival in mid-March 2020, just 3 days before the UK entered its first lockdown. Since then we have been inviting all image makers from around the world to participate in documenting the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, charting the time before, after and during the lockdowns.
Throughout this project we focused on the year 2020, presenting an imperfect vision through a shattered lens, in a previously unforeseeable situation we found ourselves instructed to stay at home, locked down in a global curfew. Apocalyptic narratives combined with dystopian futures to become a reality, as life as we knew it slowly faded into memory. As a new world order started to take shape, the situation was difficult for many and a creative provocation for others, all the while the digital realm was like the wild west of the past where entrepreneurial individuals and organisations were clamouring to get the best claim on audiences and extract the riches from this new land.
The pandemic also gave humanity a much needed pause of everyday life, to stop, rethink and reinvent for better or worse. Throughout the project it became clear to see that during this enforced period of slowing down, people were looking more closely at their living spaces, neighbours, the light on the wall, the view from windows, aging fruit, homeschooling, diy, attention was brought back to the microcosm of our domestic spaces and the people that we share it with, or not. Of course there are many people that this had already been a reality for, being housebound is not a new thing, but the equalising effect of the lockdown en masse enabled us to relate to each other through unique shared experiences. Indeed where space is more scarce, people found a new love for the space right outside or even on their doorsteps.
Photography became a lifeline to many people to communicate and express themselves. Fear, loneliness, anxiety, tender moments, separation and loss sat alongside play, creativity, invention, kindness and a real sense of community. The sense of the commonality of strangers had been lost in many ways along with the pervasive rise of global capitalism, in which our working lives take us far from the place where we live. Reclaiming space was a common sight across the world, where people found solace in the woods, or any place in between on the streets to get some fresh air, see the sun or exercise whilst eyeing each other suspiciously and observing the social distancing rules. Rethinking our public spaces is one of the many new norms that we have had to navigate during this era of Covid-19.
To date we have received over 40,000 submissions from 90+ countries which has allowed us to see both the unity and diversity in the experience of this global event. From rainbows in windows supporting NHS workers in the UK to the striking and obscure self-portraits made with limited resources, to front-line staff fighting the virus in hospitals in Iran. The images we have received have been humorous, shocking and absolutely moving. It is too soon to understand the impact and trauma of this pandemic, these are certainly challenging times, but what is clear is that this is an important moment in history that had to be documented.
For FORMAT21 we are working with The People's Picture - Helen Marshall, to create large-scale digital interactive presentations together with FORMAT Louise Fedotov-Clements, Niamh Treacy and Debbie Cooper; New Art City; Janine Derbyshire, Jonny Hill, Laura Phillips, Derby Museum and Art Gallery; Paul Lowe, Brigitte Lardinois, Oisín Davies, LCC/Photography and the Archive Research Centre to select images and series to feature in our exhibitions, in an online archive, online galleries and a large scale public artwork wrapping QUAD in thousands of photographs. Visitors to the online gallery will be able to zoom into the individual photos and explore each of the contributions.
Curated by Louise Fedotov-Clements, Niamh Treacy, Debbie Cooper. Mosaic sections created by The People's Picture Claire McDougall and Helen Marshall. With thanks to the archive team and volunteers