The last few months have been a unique period of time, singular in our lifetimes. We’ve had to find ways to adjust our day-to-days, to look after ourselves and those around us, find new routines and reflect on the important things. Many photographers have used their practice to makes sense of it all.
We first became aware of Jamie Sinclair’s work through his ‘Unrequited Love’ project, a gently emotional project about a ballet dancer and what it means to give your life to so completely to something. For ‘Neighbourly’, he looked at the local camaraderie in his community at the start of lockdown…
Jamie: I’m a photographer originally from Ashington, Northumberland; once considered the largest coal mining town in the Europe and is the birthplace of the world renowned ‘Ashington Group’ also known as ‘The Pitman Painters’. They became famous in the early 20th century for the way they depicted their everyday lives through art and represented a true development of documentary culture. It’s this depiction of everyday life that inspires me to seek out emotional narratives and work on them over extended periods of time. I endeavour to live and work as closely to my subjects as possible. I seek to engrain myself within their lives and experiences; to share their emotions and create intimate and truthful narratives as an act of collaboration.
Miniclick: What spurred the idea for Neighbourly?
I’d landed back in London from Budapest on the Wednesday before the lockdown began. Things hadn’t seemed all that serious in Hungary, so returning home to empty shelves in the supermarkets with a strange uncertainty looming over us was surreal. I began to notice unique adaptations to the pandemic within my community; the local cafe began selling their remaining stock of items that had become unobtainable in supermarkets, local food donation had shot up, there was even a man on the street selling PPE equipment on a trestle table and I had joined many mutual aid WhatsApp and Facebook groups offering support and a friendly voice to neighbours.
I began considering documenting this neighbourly camaraderie when I received the opportunity to apply for a ‘rapid response’ commission via the Rebecca Vassie Trust. The focus was on recording compelling narratives that needed to be told imminently. I felt it was vital to document these neighbourly actions of support whilst it was still possible, it also felt necessary to shine a light on some of the positive actions amidst the negative imagery and worry we were faced with.
How did you go about managing the logistics and staying safe?
Initially things were relatively simple; adhere to the social distancing guidelines, wear PPE, be conscious of my actions and wash my hands regularly. My main concern was ensuring my subjects were comfortable, confident and safe in our setting. I was having a lot of success in the first few days, until the inevitable lockdown struck.
I now had to really take a step back and asses my ethics and value the true worth of the project. I also had to adopt a new approach and dig deeper to reveal the narrative. I began focusing my attention on the mutual aid support groups, keeping an eye on the selfless acts and connecting the dots of those who could fulfil each others’ needs. The project now became much more of a discussion with those involved, sharing our experiences, thoughts and feelings on the value of this narrative. We would discuss how we could safely arrange a short session together and how we could portray the themes representative of their experiences and actions.
Did you already know any of the people you photographed?
Other than my partner who is seen within the series I didn’t know anyone prior to shooting, this was a big part of why I wanted to actually do this project. I’m from a small town of thirty or so thousand people where everyone knows everyone, following this I lived in Leeds for five years where they have a thriving artist community. Since moving to London three years ago, I’ve missed being a valued member of a community. I saw this project as a an opportunity to connect with the community of Bow, where I’ve lived for two years now, and have some sort of positive contribution to add.
I started out visiting the local cafe ‘Mae + Harvey’, I’d go every morning for the first few days, they were admirably enthusiastic about the project and having that kind of support was invaluable. Cafes tend to be a deep hub for communities and can be a boundless wealth of familiarity when getting to know an area.
Your photos have a way of showing the viewer that you’ve built a relationship with the person, there’s emotion in them. How do you go about this?
This was an interesting challenge whilst working on ‘Neighbourly’ as the deeper we went into lockdown the less I could build the natural connections I usually depend on. Like many in my community, I made myself known as an available help to those in need within our mutual aid groups. I also kept note of those who were offering help and those with needs, connecting the dots became an important instrument in developing meaningful relationships at a time of such distance and isolation. By paying attention to the groups and conversations, I could really get a sense of the compassionate individuals and those with a true empathy for our neighbours. I would thank them for their contributions, we’d share lengthy conversations regarding our current state of affairs, our wellbeing and the value I wanted to add to our community with this project. Sharing images with them and laying bare my objectives, we could then work together in achieving how to best convey their own emotions and actions.
Have you kept in touch with anyone?
There are one or two individuals I keep in touch with. Zoe for example. I’ve been helping her with updates on her supply of food to the NHS; mostly I’ve continued paying attention to the mutual aid groups and checking if there is any support needed. It has been great to strike up a connection with local independent businesses, I’ve kept up some rapport with them on the progress of the project. I’m looking forward to being a part of their community and having a few hubs to frequent, I feel as though this project has actually began an integration for me and I’m really looking forward to how things could develop.
Where have these photos end up?
The intention for the commission was to produce a photo story for the Rebecca Vassie Trust blog and a scheduled Instagram takeover on their account for a week; these are both now live. I had also worked with Roman Road LDN, a news and culture magazine for our area. They really helped in putting the word out there about my project and helped put me in touch with some of the independent stores. We’re currently editing a story for their channels too.
You can see more of Jamies’ work here: