Like many photographers at the beginning of the pandemic, Olivia Harris’ work was put on pause as the UK went into its first lockdown in March 2020. Typically working across editorial and commercial, Harris’ clients include Time magazine, New York Times, Guardian and Save the Children, among many others.
When lockdown stopped those commissions coming in, Harris looked to her local area to find inspiration and a project she could throw herself into. “Lockdown was deeply weird and I hope we’re through the worst of it now. But it was also unique and momentous,” says Harris. “Everything else was put on pause, and this project emerged from the silence. Days on Repeat helped me breathe.”
Harris describes Days of Repeat as a “sun-soaked, dazzling take on Londoners coming to terms with the lockdown”. “There was a dreaminess and unreal quality to that time. After the initial buzz of panic, a sense of common purpose and community emerged,” the photographer reflects. “It was beautiful to witness how people came together by being apart. I guessed that it would be a unique, fleeting moment and I wanted to capture it.”
To echo those feelings, Harris blended flash and ambient lighting to lift the images, but was keen to bring in a hint of otherworldliness to acknowledge the uncertainty and troubling nature of what was happening. “There was a feeling of camaraderie during the first lockdown and the weather was incredible! I wanted to draw out this feeling of nostalgia through the pictures,” says Harris of her aesthetic. “The warm lighting and a sense of togetherness helped me achieve this.”
A mix of images are presented, from the various ways people worked remotely during the warm weather to the increase in doorstep gatherings. But also Harris demonstrates our need for outdoor space during this time and how London’s concrete spaces were co-opted by people as new places of sanctuary.
The photographer’s creative process was kept simple, partly due to Harris using her one hour of exercise outside a day to take the images. “I put my lights in my bike pannier, my camera and lenses in a backpack and cycled around the neighbourhood looking for subjects,” she explains. “I went as far north as Tottenham and south to the river and Tower Hamlets. I wanted to fully represent the types of people who live here and the range of lockdown experiences. I think the quotes I gathered alongside the images help to do that.”
Some of these quotes appear in the book Harris has made of the project. By putting the images into something physical, Harris’ aim is to create a document of that period, but to also remind others of the ways people came together during a difficult time.
“I hope [the book] captures something of the extraordinary nature of what we lived through and what we’ve overcome together,” she says. “The joys, hardships and absurdities of lockdown.”