Shaohui Kwok & Amelia Saward: A Letter As We Exit Isolation

BIFB-Mass-Isolation-Nicole-Reed-SMILE-2020-Daisy-Noyes-Escape-2020-Rowena-Meadows-A-Delineating-Symbol-2020As Victoria gradually moves out of restrictions that seem to have lasted forever, let us think about this as a celebration of our perseverance, and our innate nature as human beings to be ever adaptive to the environments around us.

Being locked down for more than half a year has indeed been mentally draining for most of us here in Victoria, feeling envious of our friends in other states resuming to some form of normalcy months ago. However difficult, we are stepping in the right direction – bringing the numbers down is just the first step.

Looking back at our journey together on Mass Isolation Australia, this massive visual archive we have built together across the year, it was born out of the desire to document a unique and tumultuous situation in our lives and communities. A time when a physically distanced country came together by standing in solidarity with one another through the simplicity of sharing photographs.

As of October 2020, more than 11,500 photographs have been submitted to this project from people all around Australia and from so many walks of life. Common threads of representation appear throughout the project, ebbing and flowing like the pandemic itself – photographs submitted revealed the initial fear, the panic of lockdown, then settling into life at home, easing back restrictions, and the problems of recurring waves of the virus.

The photographs provided an insight into the way people lived in isolation, revealing their vulnerability through portraits through their windows, doorways drawing attention to living life from a distance, empty public spaces, and train stations usually full of commuters with two lonely figures walking past. Signs and street art depicted messages of advice and hope, eluding to the methods people took to deal with the difficulties of anxiety and loneliness.

Using the medium of photography to reflect and represent the challenging time everyone has had and continues to face not only documented the pandemic but provided a digital space for a community of shared experiences. The nature of this global crisis equated to a largely private experience, and having spaces to share within a wider digital platform established a sense of camaraderie.

Moreover, the process of taking the photograph itself can be beneficial in processing and coping with this difficult time and the stresses it involves. Sharing photographs can give a sense of self and purpose in a time when many are emotionally vulnerable. The act of taking a photograph gives the opportunity to actively engage in the situation and, through the power of photography, establish acceptance and connection with others.

Mass Isolation Australia sought to establish a space for widespread artistic, but distanced, participation. Despite the corporeal disconnection that COVID-19 has brought us, it also serves as a timely reminder, conveying that we are all still ever-connected and that the arts are a way to bring moments of lightness and care – and felt when we all come together as a community.

The pandemic has given us a crucial opportunity to re-evaluate not only what is important to us as individuals, but how we can operate as a more compassionate and sustainable cohort of people living on this earth.


A Letter As We Exit Isolation
Shaohui Kwok & Amelia Saward, Co-Curators, Mass Isolation Australia

This article is republished with kind permission of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale. For more information, visit: www.ballaratfoto.org for details.

Images: Nicole Reed, SMILE, 2020 / Daisy Noyes, Escape, 2020 / Rowena Meadows, A Delineating Symbol, 2020 – courtesy of the Artists and Ballarat International Foto Biennale

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