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Snapshot of lives in lockdown

Ruth Corney and her camera joined Dan Carrier in the CNJ’s food aid van. The resulting images of Camden during the coronavirus crisis now form a new book

16 July, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Lenny and his daughter smile down from their window

“IT was,” says photographer Ruth Corney, “the stuff of history.”

And now a new book, Two Metres, chronicling images of three months of lockdown in Camden, featuring her photographs and an essay by me, is published this week.

Riding shotgun in the Camden New Journal’s food aid van, Ruth accompanied us across the borough as we delivered emergency parcels to those in need at the height of the pandemic.

And wherever we went, so did Ruth’s camera. The result is a study of the people of Camden during this unprecedented crisis.

Adrian and Angie on their balcony

“I thought of this concept of people being at home, framed by their doorsteps,” she said. “I saw it could be an interesting marriage of both portrait and documentary photography.”

Finding a way to commit to record life in March, April, May and June 2020 was paramount, she says.

“I wanted to capture this period on our lives in London,” she recalls.

“The idea of people and their homes – and how their windows or doors frame them as they look out at this changed world.”

Ruth had seen other photographers taking stark images of a deserted West End, of empty landmarks and the eerie silence of the capital – but she decided to create something more personal.

Vanessa on her doorstep

She said: “Such photos were fascinating, but as a social history, I wanted to see people at home, and ask how they were dealing with this.”

Visiting streets across the borough, the diversity of neighbourhoods was also a focus.

“There are so many different types of houses and homes, different ways of living, and I wanted to get that across – the breadth of our society here,” she adds.

Despite lockdown hairstyles getting wilder each week, Ruth’s subjects were only too happy to stop for a chat – and pose for her lens.

Community worker Lulu takes a break from cooking

“Because of isolation, they were just very happy to talk – they found it a relief to speak to a different face,” she adds. “There was a genuine happiness to see and share experiences. They knew they were living through something none of us had seen before and wanted that documented.”

But despite the smiles conjured up by our visits, for Ruth, it was a period of deep reflection and unescapable sorrow.

“It really affected me,” she says. “I wanted to come home and cry sometimes. It felt very raw. Seeing just how grateful people were when we showed up with food made me feel deeply sad – there is such desperate need. It made it very sobering, and quite overwhelming. It made us realise quite how hard this has hit people.”

And shooting these portraits prompted another lockdown publication for the photographer, Kenwood Ladies Pond.

Suzanne and Dorothy with costumed swimmer Elizabeth

A keen swimmer on Hampstead Heath, Ruth has been documenting life at the Ladies Pond for more than 25 years.

As she criss-crossed Camden with us, she decided to visit lifeguards at the Lido for a picture for the collection.

“I wanted to take a shot through the Lido’s entrance,” she says.

“I went around all the ponds and took images of the life guards, sitting there, all on their own.

“I couldn’t use them for the Two Metres book, as they were slightly off the topic, but during the past three months I have spoken with other swimmers – and everyone noted how much they missed the ponds.”

Scouring through her archive, Ruth has produced a second book, focusing on images she has taken over the decades of life at the ponds. “I thought – if I can’t swim, I’ll put together a collection to help remind people of just how lovely the ponds are.”

  • Suggested donation per book £10, free postage. All proceeds will go to the Alexandra Wylie Tower Foundation, which provides children and vulnerable adults with basic needs such as food, clothing and household necessities as well as educational and cultural experiences, www.awtf.org

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