Lockdown photography in Leeds: from Hyde Park to national recognition

27 July 2020
Coralie Datta, MA Curation Practices

As lockdown eases and many of us head back out into the world, MA Curation Practices student and photographer, Coralie Datta, reflects on two lockdown photography projects that offer a window onto life in Headlingley and Hyde Park before and during the pandemic.

The first was a commission for Historic England’s ‘Picturing Lockdown’ archive project and the second a local collaboration with one of Leeds best-loved coffee shops, Coffee on the Crescent, Hyde Park.

Image: 'Garden Gym', Coralie Datta, 2020 (c) the artist  

As a social documentary photographer and story-teller, it would have been hard to imagine not using my lockdown daily exercise time to capture what was happening in my local area. I was fascinated by the many ways people were adapting to the new the restrictions, from moving their office into their garden to get the most of the sun or protecting themselves with plastic screens in their shops. I also noticed that people were much more friendly and out in their gardens more than pre-lockdown.

I hadn’t imagined that my Instagram pandemic pictures would lead to a commission from Historic England to submit five photographs over five days for their Picturing Lockdown project.

Image: 'Emma, Phil, Keren, Rose', Coralie Datta, 2020 (c) the artist  

Two hundred of the most evocative, informative and inspiring lockdown photographs were chosen or commissioned to be added to Historic England’s archive. One hundred were submitted by members of the public – the first time the public had been asked to add to their archive since WWII – fifty were newly commissioned works by ten contemporary artists, of which I was one, and fifty more were by Historic England’s own photographers.

Each day I photographed whomever I came across and the result is a snapshot of Leeds in lockdown, which I hope we will be able to look back on as a very much a one-off experience.

The entire selection of photographs made for the ‘Picturing Lockdown’ archive, launched in June, and led to interviews with media outlets including The Guardian, BBC Look North and ITV Yorkshire. It was nice to see so much interest in how ordinary people were spending their time during difficult circumstances.

Image: 'Leeds Train Station Cleaner', Sam Toolsie (c) the artist 

In early March I started a conversation with, Tim, the owner of the wonderful Coffee on the Crescent café in Hyde Park about staging a photography exhibition featuring the Hyde Park area. The café is an official partner of the MA Curation Practices course, which means that there is regular and public space for the presentation of small exhibitions in the café.

Image: 'Untitled', Adam (c) the artist 

Within just a few weeks, with lockdown a new reality, we had moved to planning an online presentation. We put out an open call on social media and within two weeks over one hundred images had been submitted featuring many photos taken before lockdown. I tend to make selections democratically with other people. In this case I was selecting alone and turned to something that Karen Harvey, the Creative Director at Shutter Hub, once told me. When shortlisting for exhibitions she often chooses what she thinks other people rather than simply what she likes.

Image: 'Toll Bridge', Stu Hanson (c) the artist

Check out the exhibition on Coffee on the Crescent’s Instagram stories.