This has been a challenging year for us all, albeit unequally and in different ways. It has also been a difficult one to photograph. The risks changed, and so my approach to working changed with it. Access has been hard to get, especially as a freelancer. And in the face of such momentous and consequential events – the coronavirus pandemic, Britain's exit from the EU, the killing of George Floyd, the urgency of the climate crisis, worsening inequality in the UK – it has often seemed close to impossible to produce pictures that live up to the importance of the moment.

So instead of the usual news focussed round-up of photographs from across the year, I decided to put together a smaller selection and to write a bit about each of them: the place, the people, the context.


Zona Sur, Jerez de la Frontera — 12 January 2020

In early January I went to Seville to meet up with journalist Meg Bernhard to take the pictures for Living to Work, a long-form story about the difficult choices facing young people in Andalusia amidst some of the worst youth unemployment rates in Europe.

On day three of the trip we took a train some 90km south to Jerez de la Frontera. The city is divided into two sections: the Zona Norte – the northern zone – and the Zona Sur – the southern zone. The northern zone is known for its sherry production and bodega-lined streets. But things change abruptly when you head down the hill into Zona Sur, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in all of Andalusia.

We met Antonio Rivera (pictured), a volunteer with Frontera Sur Exists which lobbies local and regional government to provide more money and resources for the neighbourhood.

From the story:

"Antonio tells me the unemployment rate here is higher than the rest of the city, hovering somewhere near 42 per cent. ... He tells me of low-quality schools and high dropout rates in the neighbourhood. Kids must find work in the centre of town, or else not work at all. ... How did the [2008] economic crisis change the zone? I ask. 'It was already here,' Antonio says."

It was fascinating to work with Meg on this important and challenging story – she's one of the most capable reporters I've seen at work. It also gave me a chance to dust off an ancient, battered Rolleiflex for the portraits. I was pleased with the results.


Marine Drive, Mumbai — 31 January 2020

Every photographer has favourite spots to go and wander with a camera in hand, and this is one of mine. I was in India to attend a wedding in Madhya Pradesh, and this was the final evening of the trip, back in Mumbai. I'd planned to spend all afternoon and evening walking up and down the waterfront, from Colaba to Chowpatty Beach, hopefully to put together a mini photo essay about this walkway and everything that happens along it on a given evening. In the end I felt that there weren't enough pictures to justify putting it together as a series, but there were a handful of photos that I liked.

I think it's the combination of the views, the evening light, and the multitudes of people that start to line the walkway from late afternoon onwards that make it such a fun place to spend time. There are endless conversations to be had here.

I didn't know at the time how drastically different the rest of the year was going to look, but needless to say that with the benefit of hindsight I feel really lucky to have had several trips arranged close together for the very start of the year, before the true extent of the pandemic became clear.


Pubs are ordered to close — 20 March 2020

With Coronavirus cases in the UK starting to rise sharply and a televised press conference scheduled for that evening, we knew that we were probably about to see the first significant move from government to try and stem the spread of the virus. After giving details on rising case numbers, Boris Johnson announced that pubs, cafés, and restaurants would have to close at the end of the day. The first full "lockdown" began three days later, on 23 March.

I took this picture in The Red Lion, a pub across the road from Downing Street which was showing the press conference live as Boris Johnson made the announcement. I can't claim this as an original idea – photographs of major announcements or significant votes in parliament as seen on the TV screens inside The Red Lion have been taken plenty of times before. But it seemed like an appropriate moment to do it again.


Mothering Sunday services delivered via live-stream — 22 March 2020

With some measures already announced and the start of the first national lockdown now imminent, the search was on to find meaningful ways to photograph the changes that were coming. I wanted to do something local so I began approaching nearby organisations and businesses to ask if I could come and photograph how they were adapting to the new restrictions. Perhaps understandably, I didn't receive many replies. People already had a lot to deal with, and having a socially-distanced photographer join them for a day no doubt seemed like a further complication.

But I did get a response from Reverend Anne Bennett at the Church of the Ascension in Blackheath who said I could join them for their Mothering Sunday service. The Church of England had announced that public worship would be suspended in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, and so the service was to delivered to parishioners via live-stream. As long as I was able to keep my distance and not make too much noise, I was free to move around the church during the service to take pictures – including up on the organ balcony, where this picture was taken.


The Queen addresses the nation — 8 April 2020

On 5 April, the Queen made a rare broadcast address to the nation in response to the pandemic. Appearing on screens across the UK, she thanked NHS and frontline workers for their essential work and concluded by looking towards the better times to come: "we will meet again". A few days later, her picture and several accompanying quotes from the speech ran across the screens in a mostly empty Piccadilly Circus.

I think it's fair to say the Queen is never far from public consciousness in the UK, but I can't remember seeing the image of a monarch (or politician) displayed like this before. What a sign of the times.


Black Lives Matter — 13 June 2020

After the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May, protests soon spread from the United States to cities around the world. The first demonstration in London took place on 28 May, and protests in different towns and cities followed almost every day after that until the end of June.

On 13 June, an official Black Lives Matter demonstration had been scheduled to take place, but it was called off after far-right groups and activists said they would be coming to London to hold a counter-demonstration in Parliament Square. I went to Trafalgar Square where a small group of BLM protesters had gathered. Whitehall, the road that runs between the two, was completely closed off and heavily guarded by police, but a group from Parliament Square managed to find their way around the police and reached Trafalgar Square.

Stones, bottles, and smoke bombs started smashing into the ground all around us. This was one of those situations where the adrenaline kicks in, and before I knew it I was up on the top end of the square in a much safer position. Fireworks started going off and heavy clashes with the police followed, leading to more than 100 arrests. In a generally ugly year, this was a particularly ugly day.


Monique Jackson, COVID-19 "long-hauler" — 20 July 2020

When Monique became ill with suspected COVID-19 in mid-March, she expected to be unwell for a couple of weeks. But that point came and went with little change in how she was feeling.

Monique and I were housemates in South London for several years. I knew that she had been unwell, but I hadn't realised just what a continuing ordeal it was until she explained it to me in the summer. At that time awareness of "long COVID" was starting to grow, but only slowly and based mostly on the small fragments of testimony from "long-haulers" that made it into the news. So I asked her if I could write something more in-depth about what was happening to her and her experience of it. She was keen to do it, so we got to work. The portrait is of Mon surrounded by moving boxes the weekend before she moved back home to live with her mum.

From the story:

"Monique was told that it was likely she had COVID-19, but was not tested – at that time tests were reserved for people admitted to hospital. But she was otherwise in good health, and in spite of how she was feeling, her other tests were fine. She should recover after a couple of weeks. She went home and marked the days on a post-it note, striking each of them off until the two weeks had passed. There was little change in her symptoms. 'After a month, I was just hoping that it would take another month to calm down,' Monique told me. 'When it got to three months, I started to surrender to the fact that this is unknown.'"

True to form, Mon also managed to create something positive from it all: check out her illustrated diary – Coronadiary – here.


NHS staff protest for pay increase — 8 August 2020

In July, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a public sector pay rise covering some 900,000 workers – recognition of the "vital contribution" they had made in the first half of the year. But many NHS staff – including nurses, midwifes, and hospital porters – were not included. On 8 August, socially-distanced protests took place in cities across the UK.

Fast forward to the end of December and hospital admissions are now on the brink of surpassing the peak during the first wave. NHS staff are saying they are exhausted, and as public adherence to the rules frays, morale is running low. The summer feels like a completely different time.


Evelyn Community Store, Lewisham — 17 November 2020

This was part of a commission for FareShare, a charity which redistributes surplus food from supermarkets and food companies to frontline charities tackling food poverty. The idea was to show the journey that an item of food takes, from delivery to FareShare right through to distribution with a partner charity.

I spent the morning in and around the FareShare London warehouse photographing the arrival, sorting, picking, and packing of food for delivery. Then in the afternoon we went to Evelyn Community Store, which is right on my doorstep and somewhere I've cycled past numerous times without knowing what goes on inside. The store is open to anyone living in Lewisham that receives benefits or is on a low income and works on a membership basis: members pay a flat £3.50 for their shopping, so contribute towards the food they take home.

As Natasha said, one of the organisers, said: services like this shouldn't have to exist. But for as long as they need to, we should all be immensely thankful to people like Natasha and the team of volunteers that run them with such dedication. It's what truly serving your community looks like.

You can donate to Evelyn Community Store here



A quick vote of thanks to Point.51 colleagues Nick, Sara, James, and Meg for the frequent and fruitful conversations we've had across the year. Also to the brilliant journalists and photographers we worked with on the latest issue – Serena, Hugh, Maren, Teresa, Jakob, Kristina, and Nora: in a year where travel was for the most part not possible, working with them on fascinating and important stories from across Europe has been a real salvation. If you haven't already, please do consider buying a copy of the magazine to support our work – long-form journalism and original photography from across Europe, in print. You can find out more here.

Finally, thanks to the editors and organisations that have commissioned me across the last twelve months. I hope we continue working together into a brighter and more positive 2021.

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