Linda Hampton talks to Jill Reidy, one of Blackpool’s talented and prolific photographers and a member of Blackpool Social Club’s team, as she prepares to launch her latest exhibition ‘When the chairs went up’ this week.
In PART 1 they discuss Jill’s personal experiences of lockdown and her inspiration for the work on show.
Q: How has the last 15 months been for you both personally and professionally during the pandemic?
Personally, like many others, I’ve found the pandemic a bit of a roller coaster. I had times when I despaired of ever seeing my grandchildren again; feared that relationships with friends and family would be strained; worried constantly about my elderly mum, hoping she would live long enough to come out the other end. I veered between being frantically busy – writing stories and plays, and sending off cheerful prints to those living alone – and just slumping on the sofa mindlessly working my way through Netflix. I was emotional and wondered if I was going completely mad at one point.
Professionally, the pandemic meant I had to cancel bookings. Cancelling newborn shoots was particularly sad. I knew the parents would never get those professional images again. I was unable to photograph Rebellion, Pride, Northern Soul, Tram Sunday-all of which I shoot every year. An exhibition lined up at Abingdon Studios had to be postponed indefinitely. Everything was being taken away and nothing was replacing it. I was one of the lucky ones as my photography doesn’t completely finance my lifestyle. It’s a part time profession which I knew I would pick up again eventually.
Q: What inspired you to start taking photographs after the start of lockdown?
Frankly, I think I began to lose a little confidence in my abilities, as lockdown progressed. I had no desire to pick up my camera, despite walking several miles every day, always with my phone, so never without the means to shoot. I posted pictures on social media– the prom, sea, beaches and skies. They weren’t the best technically, but I think people could relate to the freedom they represented. Other photographers took doorstep portraits but that didn’t appeal to me. It soon became an over saturated market. I photographed the garden, my grandson on his skateboard, and other homely subjects. I did a short project on washing up water in a bowl, combining images with poetry and conveyed my feelings of depression for a while. I’ve always loved obscure images and slightly off the wall ideas, and this got picked up by Shutterhub and Phlock Photography.
Q: I was one of the shielding gang throughout all the lockdowns so I never went anywhere for a very long time. How did it feel to be out and about when everywhere was closed up?
It felt quite strange and apocalyptic. I didn’t venture into Blackpool as I was being careful about mixing. I wandered around Cleveleys and started taking pictures of the closed shops and cafes. Desolate, dilapidated buildings have always appealed to me as images. I exhibited in Gaz Cook’s Preston Photography Festival, based on lockdown, and my story evolved around Taste Café in Cleveleys that was selling through a hatch. I like to get to know the people I’m shooting and it was good to get involved with the staff, who were very willing to be part of the project. A huge aspect of my photography is the chat that goes with it. I love to know about people’s lives and, although this was missing during most of lockdown, there were some opportunities for interaction.
Q: How do you, as a photographer, capture the mood in these photographs, especially in such extraordinary circumstances? Or do the subjects simply speak for themselves?
Many of the images taken during lockdown speak for themselves: the doorstep portraits; the empty buildings; the shutters down; the empty streets. These are images that will stay with us for a long time, and will be permanent testament to a strange and unprecedented time, with no explanation necessary. Hopefully the most memorable will be saved to the country’s photographic archives, and will provide us with a literal snapshot of the time.
You can read Part 2 of Jill’s interview from Wednesday 7 July.
About the exhibition
When the Chairs Went Up opens to the public, during café opening hours, on 2nd July 2021 at No. 5 Café, Cedar Square, Blackpool FY1 1BP. Upstairs to view.
Jill invites you to contact her for a personal meet up and to view the exhibition which runs for several months.
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