A striking image of a couple looking out of their 15th floor flat window at Margate’s Arlington House is one of 100 to be featured in a unique collective portrait of the UK during lockdown.
The image by Ramsgate photographer Rebecca Douglas captures a moment in time during an extraordinary part of our history, showing “what it looked like when the world stood still.”
The works in Hold Still – a digital exhibition launched by the Duchess of Cambridge and the National Portrait Gallery – were submitted over a six week period and chosen from a massive 31,598 entries.
The exhibition has three core themes – Helpers and Heroes, Your New Normal and Acts of Kindness – with the images presenting a unique record of shared and individual experiences during the Covid lockdown.
Rebecca’s capture in time of Simon and Paul looking down from the window of their flat was just one of a series of Thanet ‘Lockdown Life’ photos taken by the former Dane Court student between April and June.
The 36-year-old, who lives in Ramsgate with husband Mark and their three cats Misu, Solar and Atlas, undertook the project as weddings and brand work dried up for her photography business of ten years due to the pandemic restrictions.
She said: “It has a very clear focus on Thanet. I’m Thanet born and bred and I wanted to stay close to home so would go out on a one hour loop, focusing on the stories behind closed doors.
“Arlington is just such an iconic building. I was in the Dreamland car park, it was a chilly morning, and I was looking up at the 15th floor waiting for a window to open.
“All the other windows were shut. It looked so isolating with just that one window open and made me wonder what was happening to everyone else behind the other windows.
“It really is an honour to be part of Hold Still. The whole collection is so emotive and captures so many different demonstrations of people in society, in different roles, personal emotions of grief, people who are ill, what the world looked like while it stood still.
“I have never entered anything before so it was just amazing to be selected. It is interesting to think how these pictures will outlive us all as part of the National Portrait archive.”
The Hold Still judging panel included: The Duchess of Cambridge; Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery; Lemn Sissay MBE, writer and poet; Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England and Maryam Wahid, photographer
The panel assessed the images on the emotions and experiences they convey rather than on their photographic quality or technical expertise. The final 100 present a unique and highly personal record of this period in our history, from virtual birthday parties, handmade rainbows and community clapping to brave NHS staff, resilient keyworkers and people dealing with illness, isolation and loss. The images convey humour and grief, creativity and kindness, tragedy and hope.
Rebecca, who studied at the University of Sheffield and worked in recruitment and then as an employability advisor in higher education, moved into teaching photography before launching her business full-time in 2010.
She concentrates mainly on brand work and weddings as well as becoming an experienced Arctic and Sub-Arctic traveller to capture visual stories across Iceland and Norway on over 25 missions. The nature-lover says she has spent five years chasing the lights in the aurora zone.
She added: “Iceland is my favourite place, the nature so raw and pure. We arrived at Jokulsarlon at sunset and waited for darkness to arrive and the skies came alive with aurora.
“When flying to Canada, a once in a lifetime moment happened flying over the Greenland Ice Cap with the pinkest of sunsets, this was captured from my window and the whole plane was glowing pink inside.
“Later on during that trip we spend about half an hour quietly watching the black bear from our car, engine off, windows slightly down, so not to scare it. It was so close, we could hear it eating the grass and berries!”
Rebecca also captures nature closer to home. She said: “West Bay is my favourite of all the bays here, completely tidal, it is so dynamic and I just adore the light and watching the sun dip into the sea from this bay.”
Some 72 images from Rebecca’s Thanet’s Lockdown Life will also be featured at The Beaney in Canterbury for the Museum of You exhibition from September 26 to October 18.
This celebrates the creativity, stories and experiences of visitors and local community during the Coronavirus pandemic.
To see the exhibition visitors need to pre-book via the link at https://canterburymuseums.co.uk/events/museum-of-you/
Following Museum of You Rebecca plans to run an online exhibition of the whole collection on her website and include some of the stories behind the photos.
She said: “People also answered questions about going into lockdown and what their hopes for the future are. I would like to share those responses and thoughts, where I have been given permission. I have also been approached about a mixed media exhibition using people’s words, reflections and social accounts.
“There were so many stories, one couple were celebrating their 148th birthday – they had birthdays on the same day – and it was around the time of VE Day so they had the bunting in their front garden.”
Like Rebecca’s description of wedding photos, it is likely these lockdown pictures will also “increase in value over time” as people look back on them and they “become a legacy of people’s private lives.”
A selection of the photographs featured in Hold Still will also be shown in towns and cities across the UK later in the year.
Find the exhibition online at https://www.npg.org.uk/hold-still/
Find Rebecca Douglas Photography at https://www.rebeccadouglas.co.uk/blog/