Brighton photographer charts life under coronavirus lockdown

Henry McDonald
·4-min read

Faces behind frosted-glass doors and bare windowpanes embodying endurance under the coronavirus siege have been captured by a photographer taking images of people living in lockdown.

JJ Waller is taking pictures of residents in Brighton, which was one of the first places in Britain to experience an outbreak of Covid-19.

He is roaming the south coast city’s near-deserted streets photographing individuals and families marooned at home as the nation experiences another week of quarantine.

His subjects include a woman holding her newborn baby against the pane of her door, a crouching couple peering out from the front of their house, and an entire family posing in the colours of a local non-league football team.

Waller said he was using the daily personal exercise time allowed by the government to record how fellow citizens were coping with life behind closed doors.

“Since the lockdown started to kick in three weeks ago I have had 24 different invites to homes across Brighton. They saw a post I put up across social media about this project and all are very happy to take part,” he said.

Waller, who is more familiar with taking portraits of comedians such as Eddie Izzard and Paul Merton, said he has been honoured to be invited to come up to the houses, flats and apartments of those taking part. Before becoming a photographer more than 20 years ago, Waller was part of the alternative standup comedy scene.

“Technically it is a real challenge because I only get maybe a few minutes to shoot individuals and families who come to the windows or doors. But I am also honoured that I have their trust to do this,” said Waller.

He has detected both fear and hope in the people he has photographed during Brighton’s lockdown.

What do the restrictions involve?

People in the UK will only be allowed to leave their home for the following purposes:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible

  • One form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household

  • Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person

  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home

Police will have the powers to enforce the rules, including through fines and dispersing gatherings. To ensure compliance with the instruction to stay at home, the government will:

  • Close all shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship

  • Stop all gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with

  • Stop all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals

Parks will remain open for exercise, but gatherings will be dispersed.

“Some of the pictures have an ominous atmosphere about them and you can see the fear in some of their faces. There are a few people who look very debilitated and weak, possibly from the virus itself.

“Yet there is one image from all those I have taken so far that fills me with optimism. It was shot last week at a housing estate up in the Hangleton area; an image of a family at the window and in particular a little girl. There was something in the way the child pressed her palm up against the glass that grabbed my eye and made me feel upbeat again.”

Fay Bridgewater, who was one of those photographed in the first week of the project, said it was important to take part. “When JJ approached me I was really keen because it was vital to have this moment in time documented for history.

“I am smiling in the picture behind our yellow door with my kids and my husband. This was before the death toll started to mount and things were getting really grim. Now I turn off the radio and TV and just hope that one day soon we can get back to normal. I even look forward to the beach being full again of out-of-town tourists,” she said.

Waller, preparing to head out for another hour of exercise and photography, said the most striking thing about recording people under siege was the kindness and understanding they had shown him.

“One family knew that I am a follower of the ‘other Brighton team’ – Whitehawk FC. So when I turned up at their window last week they were decked out in the colours of the club which I made a photographic album for, documenting their season a couple of years ago. It was a really sweet thing to do. Amid all the doom and gloom, pictures like that give me hope. In many of the photographs there is a twinkle in people’s eyes that says they are not giving up.”