When Dr Shani Roper explained to me her idea for a UWI Museum project and exhibition on Surviving Covid-19 and asked me to be one of the photographers, I was happy to say yes – and not just because it was a great concept – but for the purely personal reason that it had been so long since I had taken up my cameras and shot anything and I was glad for the stimulus. There were many reasons that I hadn’t been shooting: life and work had gotten busy; my friends who I shot with had gotten busy; other reasons I may not even be sure of. But here now was opportunity and motivation.
It is somewhat ironic that it was a pandemic – a time of isolating and shutting down – that provided such a chance. The direct source of my freedom to accept Dr Roper’s offer was that I was by then working remotely and thus had flexibility with my time (if my old boss is reading this, please ignore). And so, while the photographic journey of Surviving Covid-19 constantly reminded of the dangers of the virus as we traversed deserted campus vistas, it also provided a break and a moment to contemplate new possibilities.
I think this paradox is reflected in my favourite photograph from my contribution to Surviving Covid-19: a shot of the inside of a dorm room on Mary Seacole Hall. The room appears a bit dark and gloomy, but also brightened from sunlight seeping in through the windows. There are the bluish walls and yellowish furniture: in colour theory these colours harmoniously complement each other because they are directly opposite on the colour wheel. Does the photograph show a room that had been abandoned – or one that is at rest, awaiting something, or someone, new? I think it does both.
My takeaway with is that a break was needed, but not for the sake of returning to the way things were – to the ways that led us to be broken down in the first place. And for this reason, there was perhaps some disappointment in the second half of the exhibition’s photographic journey: shooting the campus when students and staff had returned on site. Despite some pandemic legacies like facemasks and sanitizing stations, it seemed that we had spent two years creating ‘new-normals’ (I can’t believe I’m using that phrase – apologies) only to return to old ones. And if this is indeed the case, the opportunity has been wasted (I say while trying to avoid the contemptuous side-eye of my now again dust-covered cameras … ).