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A new online photography exhibition, launched today, captures the experiences of the elderly during the spring 2020 lockdown.

Through striking portraits and interviews, Indoors, an online photography exhibition launched today, brings to life how older East Londoners struggled with and adapted to life under the spring 2020 lockdown. Their stories are interwoven with insights from the University of Oxford’s research in social science, ethics and history to reflect on the wider, societal impacts of loneliness and the role of meaningful, neighbourly interaction in building resilient communities. The exhibition is part of the nationwide Being Human Festival, and will be freely available online from 16:00 on 12 November.

The exhibition is the result of a new collaboration between London-based photographer Adam Isfendiyar and researchers from the University of Oxford. When the spring 2020 lockdown closed down his normal work, Adam decided to document the personal stories of local residents by taking their portraits at their windows and front doors. For the Victory in Europe (VE) day anniversary, he developed a series of portraits of those who had lived through the Second World War.

Adam’s VE photographs came to the attention of researchers at the University of Oxford’s Ethox Centre (Dr Federica Lucivero, Mira Schneiders and Professor Michael Dunn) and historian Dr Roderick Bailey. ‘The photographs provoked us to think about how our research in ethics, social science and history took shape in, and connected to, real-world experiences in new and important ways’ says Michael. ‘As we reflected, we found recurring themes within the images and stories. We each took the theme that most closely aligned with our own research to explore further.’ These four themes – Isolation, Connectedness, Coping and Memories - were used to curate the final selection of testimonies for the exhibition.

The final set of images convey a powerful message that the experiences of older people in lockdown are unique and diverse, and highly dependent on personal circumstances and local support networks. ‘The images also challenge the stereotype of older people being frail and a burden on society, by showing that they are resourceful and have found creative ways to cope and stay connected’ says Mira.

According to Roderick, the reflections of those who lived through the Second World War can also encourage us to think critically about comparing our experience of this pandemic to previous times of national crisis. ‘Are the dangers the same? Is it right and helpful to think of a pandemic as a time of war and a pathogen as an enemy?’ he says. ‘These memories have much to tell us about the perspectives of different generations and ideas of vulnerability.’

 Michael adds that the exhibition can help guide us all to consider how we might respond to the needs of the older members of our communities. ‘I hope people will leave the exhibition with a new sense of how they might understand their responsibilities to older members of our society, how they might support them, how they might shape their opportunities, and how they might build and strengthen communities in ways that involve them’ he says.

Adam concludes: ‘Everyone is affected by this pandemic in different ways. Doing something as small as making a phone call or offering to help with shopping, can make a world of difference to certain members of our community who are prisoners to this pandemic.’

The online launch event for the exhibition will take place tonight (November 12) at 16:00 – 16:45. This will include contributions from both the photographer and researchers, and an audience Q&A session. Access is via the following link: http://ow.ly/ojde50BXhKb Following the launch event, the exhibition will be available to view from 12 November onwards: https://www.weh.ox.ac.uk/engagement/indoors-exhibition

Both the launch event and exhibition are free and suitable for all ages.

Being Human is the UK’s national festival of the humanities, led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London in partnership with the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. https://beinghumanfestival.org/

We would like to thank all of the participants included in the photographs and also Wellcome for funding this public engagement project.