From 21st December 2020 to 29th March 2021, London came under Tier 4 ‘Stay at Home’ Covid restrictions. We were only allowed out for work or exercise. Non-essential shops and social spaces closed, although ‘one person [was] permitted to meet with one other person in an outside public space’.
Our horizons narrowed, and time felt frozen, like a film frame jammed in the gate of a projector. Working within these constrictions, I went out at 5.30pm every day and stood in precisely the same place on the shallow flight of steps in front of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, overlooking the A3 at Elephant and Castle.
The scene presented me with four distinct planes of movement and speed, layered in front of the camera:
Cyclists on the cycle lane between me and the bus stop – fastest because nearest to me Pedestrians passing by and getting off buses – moving briskly People waiting for buses – almost static The motor traffic – intermittently slow, fast or static
By varying my shutter speed I could isolate these planes, freezing or blurring movement. The camera remained still, always focused on the bus stop itself, with its messaging.
As the politicians in Downing Street had their parties, the messages on the bus stop’s illuminated billboard ramped up from ‘Maintain social distancing’, to ‘STAY HOME SAVE LIVES’, to ‘LOOK HER IN THE EYES AND TELL HER YOU NEVER BEND THE RULES’. Later it progressed to the social fall-out of the pandemic. ‘ABUSERS ALWAYS WORK FROM HOME’ cast a baleful light over the characters around the stop. Later on, passing children were reassured by the softer ‘It’s OK if you’re feeling nervous about school today’. When COVID deaths waned, commercial adverts returned, including the COVID-themed ‘Has your eyesight changed during lockdown?’.
As the days spooled out, I came to see the stop as a stage set. The same characters came by on cue each evening, but improvising slightly around their core performance: three assertive women briskly enter stage right, the middle one will be smoking. The brightly lit workman on an electric bike will pass after the strutting speedy guy alive with anxious tics. Other characters came as guest stars: most studiously avoiding eye contact, some seeking out connection. A few talked to me, including one copper. He was happy for me to be there once I explained that standing still in the cold and rain was, for the time being, my work.
This collection is of a single image from each visit.