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Remote Connections

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on all of us, transforming the way we live, work and socialise. Using portraiture, staged imagery, video and audio recordings, as part of Covid-19 Reflections photographer Tadhg Devlin has captured the diversity of experiences and views on life for those living rurally during that time. Here he reflects on his work with young people in Malpas.



Whilst some people in rural communities felt particularly isolated during the pandemic, others felt their industries were protected through initiatives like the furlough scheme. My work with them has resulted in three artworks: a photographic series co-designed and produced with young people from Malpas and individual rural farmers, mirroring their day-to-day experiences of lockdown; a video piece representing a range of collective rural voices; and a newspaper bringing the whole project together.

“Culture is for anyone and everyone you can’t really say that it’s just for city people.”

I had been working with a number of different rural communities and I really wanted to hear from a group of young people to gain their perspective on how the pandemic could affect their outlook on their future. I contacted numerous groups throughout the area and then linked up with a youth group in Malpas working with their drama teacher Ellen.



With other individuals I had worked with I conducted interviews and asked direct questions about the pandemic, but I soon realised this wouldn’t really work with these younger people as the majority of them were only eight or nine during the first lockdown in 2020. I adapted the way I usually work, following the lead of the teachings, activities and workshops initiated by the drama teacher.

The process seemed to reveal itself as the work developed, which is always quite a scary element but also I feel an essential part of a project.

On the first meeting I talked through the ideas about the project with the group and the young people seemed a little uncertain but I was encouraged by some of their ideas that we discussed that evening. Over the following weeks I worked with Ellen and the group as they did numerous workshops and exercises that were completely new to me, but an incredible way of getting the individuals to talk about the pandemic.


It took a while to realise how these different ways of working could be combined together to create something interesting and exciting. The activities were all based on different aspects of the pandemic and grew from improvised scenes and conversations to gather ideas and thoughts to build on for the project. For example in one session Olivia improvised a scene about a recipe for the lockdown and it went like this:



175g of electronic devices

1 tbsp of loneliness

3g of food

1½ tsp of FaceTime calls


Method

Sift the loneliness into a large bowl and

add the FaceTime calls and the food.

Bake for 20 days.

And repeat.

These words, along with other comments and scenes, were used to visualise certain aspects of their experience of the pandemic in the photographs such as the image playing with the idea of taking the indoors outside, which none of us could do during lockdowns. We lived separate lives but were connected in other ways.



The image using paper aeroplanes came about from discussing how to make an interesting visual representation of sending WhasApp messages. The young people wrote their messages on the paper planes and sent them to each other.



Rather than just repeating my normal way of working, I tried to embrace some of the difficulties of working with the drama group. Lots of the work was created in improvised sessions over the weeks which led to a session when we went out on location to create some staged imagery. These reflected on the different experiences that arose from those sessions.


The process seemed to reveal itself as the work developed, which is always quite a scary element but also I feel an essential part of a project. The tension or anxiety of the unknown somehow drove the approach. By creating this clash and trying to combine photography and drama, an interesting dynamic emerged, an space to experiment and play. I think a piece of work should have a deep understanding of the participants involved, which involves trust and empathy from both parties.



I have really enjoyed working with the young people in Malpas as part of my Reflections residency and it has made me re-think how I try to make this often difficult collaborative type of work. I have realised that I often work best under more difficult and challenging conditions where I don’t know the final outcome, or indeed if any will be produced. It is a process of discovery throughout.


The work is currently displayed on the exterior walls of the Open Eye Gallery. The young people went to view it in Liverpool and I was excited to see their response.



“It was amazing, I loved it,” one of them told me. “It felt proper weird though when I first went in because I expected it to be, you know, small, but it was massive. And just seeing that one picture of my face and what I wrote on a massive big scale was really, really cool. But it was also weird at the same time.”

“I think it’s been a good opportunity to get more connected to culture and those types of things because you can do all these things with groups, but unless you go to the

event, you never really experience the full extent and range of it,” another said of going to the event. “Culture is for anyone and everyone you can’t really say that it’s just for city people.”


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