The pandemic has produced a unique moment in the history of photography, never before has one theme been explored simultaneously by so many different image makers, from photojournalists to portraitists, artists to activists, documentarians to doctors.
The power of photography in this emergency lies in its apparent capacity to capture and respond to collective trauma, and it is being used during this crisis in myriad ways to make sense of a previously unimaginable new world order. The pandemic is a global media event like no other, in the sense that it is not only being witnessed by audiences around the world simultaneously, but experienced in their own lives too.
Equally, the effect on media professionals is highly unusual: usually reporting on the lives of others, their cameras now turn on their own lived emotional experiences of the pandemic.
Just as it is all but impossible to recall major historic events like 9/11 or the Vietnam War without evoking photographs, the Covid-19 pandemic is producing images that will shape the memories of future generations, as well as being part of the ongoing process of under-standing and adjustment to its catastrophic impact. Photography and the Archive Research Centre (PARC) Paul Lowe and Jennifer Good
The pandemic has further underscored social media’s centrality in modern life. Under lockdown, it has become for many people the primary means of connection, resulting in an explosion of creativity, self-expression and peer support within a primarily visual form.
Arguably, the pandemic has seen Jurgenson’s concept of ‘the social photo’ take on a radical new dimension, as visual images have become a currency through which we can express our psychological, emotional and experiential states of mind in real time to each other.
The extraordinary outpouring of images in response the #massIsolationFormat open call demonstrates this social nature of the image, as new networks of connections have been made in real time as image makers reach out via Instagram to the world, and the world has replied and interacted directly.
Written by Paul Lowe and Jennifer Good