Coronavirus: Photographer explores loneliness in exhibition

By Neil Heath
BBC News, East Midlands

  • Published
Two women talking on a benchImage source, Tony Fisher
Image caption,
Tony Fisher had been travelling to take portraits before the coronavirus outbreak

Professional photographer Tony Fisher has been travelling across England, exploring the subject of loneliness and isolation before and after lockdown. He told BBC News he hoped people would find the subject surprisingly uplifting.

"I have met many wonderful people while I've been out taking these photographs," he said.

Tony Fisher's idea for a photography exhibition on loneliness was pitched to the Arts Council before lockdown. But since the measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus took hold, the issue of isolation has become even more relevant.

Despite the sobering nature of his subject matter, Mr Fisher said hoped the interactions he has caught for a series of exhibitions called Only the Lonely would give people hope in unsettling times.

"People have written to me to tell me it's kept them going," he said.

Image source, Tony Fisher
Image caption,
Mr Fisher joined the people of Belper for their spirit-lifting daily moo

Mr Fisher - who lives in sheltered housing accommodation in Derbyshire - approached the Arts Council and received its backing for his exhibitions with a grant in April 2019.

His travels took him from his Riddings home to Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset, where he photographed some of the founders of the Happy to Chat bench, and Yorkshire.

However, things "ground to a halt" because of the pandemic, forcing him to adapt how he worked and instead take "lockdown portraits".

Image source, Tony Fisher
Image caption,
The photographer said lockdown forced him to change how he worked

Fortunately, a mere 20-minute drive from his home, the residents of Belper were seeking other creative ways to combat lockdown isolation - namely the Belper Moo.

"That was fantastic," says Mr Fisher, who catalogued the quirky town event that saw residents issue mooing sounds from their homes and gardens.

"It was a wonderful thing for people to organise during lockdown."

Image source, Tony Fisher
Image caption,
Mr Fisher encouraged people to share an activity that made them hope

Mr Fisher, 65, said it was his own experiences of "extreme loneliness" that led him to explore the theme within his project.

In the mid-1990s, he lost both of his parents in the space of a few months and then his wife Anne died of motor neurone disease.

The succession of tragedies led to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"It caused tremendous isolation," he said.

"Even my friends walked on the other side of the street; they didn't know what to say."

Image source, Tony Fisher
Image caption,
The project is ongoing and Mr Fisher has appealed for more stories

He said he believed lockdown had increased loneliness which, in turn, had affected mental health for many people.

"As you get older the social interactions diminish and, particularly now with Covid, those things have disappeared and people have become more isolated," he said.

"People are interacting on the internet but it's not quite the same as real life."

Image source, Tony Fisher
Image caption,
Mr Fisher (pictured here with his daughter) has been making art all of his life

However, he has found working on his exhibition "enriching" and said he thought "art really does save lives".

Mr Fisher has won a number of awards for his work, his latest success being an honourable mention in the Worldwide Photography Gala Awards.

His work also featured in the lockdown collection in the Historic England archive.

Ten years ago, health issues and disability saw him move into an independent living scheme.

"It's not always been rosy but I am a positive person," he said.

Only the Lonely can be seen at a number of locations, including Royal Derby Hospital, the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham and The Arthouse in Wakefield, but also on the photographer's Facebook page.

The project has been extended until 2022 and more portraits will be added to current displays as time goes on.

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