Five photographers interpret anxiety in Wellcome Covid-19 project

Wellcome commissioned five international image-makers to create a body of work in response to the mental health fallout of the coronavirus pandemic

From isolation to job insecurity to grief, the mental health fallout tied to the global pandemic is by now widely recognised. To unpack how anxieties manifest in myriad ways and under wide-ranging individual circumstances, Wellcome commissioned five image-makers, all from different countries, to produce a photographic response throughout May and June to the question: “How are you, your family and your friends coping with anxiety related to Covid-19?”

UK photographer Hayleigh Longman, who spent lockdown living with her mother and her mother’s partner in Harlow, turned to self-portraiture which she found to be therapeutic, while also documenting the coping mechanisms that so many people have had to establish this year.

For Longman and her family, this meant forming bonds with neighbours, such as seven-year-old Harry next door, as well as engaging with “productive procrastination” in the form of odd jobs around the house and garden. “There is a sense of performance in these actions, as we fill our time with activity in order to distract ourselves from the fear and anxiety we were feeling,” Longman says.

Manu Brabo, whose practice is typically geared towards conflict photography, chose to examine the new dangers presented this year. Brabo, who’s from Gijón in northern Spain, created an intimate project focusing on his high-risk father, who he says would be “an easy target for the virus”.

The process uncovered Brabo’s own fears as much as his father’s, and found he was constantly asking himself questions such as is he using the mask properly? Is he washing his hands enough? And if he gets infected, will he be another number on the graph?

Brooklyn-based photographer Cait Oppermann created a project that contrasts the interior space with exterior reality. The photos are divided between images taken around her apartment where she and her partner were spending most of their time, and photographs taken during the protests organised in response to the police killing of George Floyd in May.

Oppermann says her aim was to capture “the constant push and pull associated with being concerned for one’s own health and trying to quell an invisible virus as well as one’s own civic duty to fight against injustice and disease of another kind altogether.”

New Zealand photographer Tatsiana Chypsanava began her project after lockdown had been lifted there, and explored how the return to some form of freedom – ordinarily considered a cause for celebration – brought with it a new set of anxieties.

Chypsanava examines the emergent behaviours and lingering sense of unease following the reopening of the country through the perspective of her 13-year-old daughter, who had grown somewhat accustomed to lockdown rules and the life that comes with it.

South African photographer Lindokuhle Sobekwa used his project to document the everyday anxieties he and those around him experienced this year, spurred on by the separation from his family as well as the disruption to utilities like electricity in the Thokoza township in Johannesburg, where he was living with his girlfriend’s family.

Alongside images showing the visible manifestation of anxiety, Sobekwa also captures the improvised attempts to find joy in the everyday, from shadow puppets by candlelight during power cuts, to celebrating his birthday despite being away from his mother, brother and sisters.

The project has been launched to coincide with the opening of entries for the Wellcome Photography Prize 2021, which will focus on Mental Health, Fighting Infections and Health in a Heating World as key categories.

Entries are open for the Wellcome Photography Prize until January 18 2021;