Nicola Lewis-Dixon: Limited Focus, a Documentary of Family Life in Lockdown

What it seems the family album does is to tell the story from the adults’ point of view, particularly from a patriarchal point of view… it’s telling the story in that way, all the highlights and ideal parts, that creates a whole set of gaps and absences, that you can’t fill the rest in.’

Jo Spence

It seems fitting to discuss this project of Lockdown as we teeter on the edge of a similar circumstance. I myself have found myself having to suddenly had to juggle a self isolating child due to a school Covid positive within his ‘bubble’. 

This adapted ‘counter’ photography series looks inward at us as a family during the covid-19 pandemic, using the couch as an anchor. The series portrays re-photography in linear time and highlights newly forming identity, new rituals merged with old, along with the narrative and performance of everyday family life. Reflecting on the adaptability of this new normal way of forced domestic family living. A concept of three chosen images of a possible five that were taken was soon decided and to carry on, until life regained some normality. Little did I know how massive this undertaking was to become. Starting on Thursday the 19th of mach and carried on until Thursday the 3rd of September, equating to 504 final images. 

The final large collection shows the highs and the lows of family life. The title idea ‘Limited Focus’ struck almost immediately into the project. I was setting the camera and tripod and taking test shots, and struggling to find the best way to keep everything in focus. Furthermore, discovering that I liked the accidental effects of the sporadic blurry images. The parallel of the blur and limited focus of the camera, along my own limited hazy focus of the unknown seemed apt.

People/families always have a level of habit and rituals in life, but after 24 weeks of the severe and enforced restrictions to life, these rituals are undisturbed and ever so more apparent. Somedays they are totally to be in-braced and relished, other times it feels like you are trapped in arut of our own making. A surreal mixture of the films Groundhog Day, 28 Days Later and Rear Window. As Dr Katrin Joost suggests ‘The shrinking of our space and the forcing of people being together, but also the taring of people being apart globally’.

‘My entire life seems to have been founded on conflict. Both within my family and through wider social contexts, it felt as if there were a continual war going on just beneath the surface, threatening to break out if certain rituals were not observed.’ 

‘to better understand how, through visual forms of representation, our subjective views of selves, and others, are structured and held across the institutions of media, and through hierarchical social relationships.’        

Jo Spence

Conceptually and theoretically the work has been underpinned with Jo Spence’s  foundation of what she coined, ‘counter photography’. Looking into the idea of the family album being non representative of realistic family life. Family albums do indeed show the good and posed side of the domestic setting, but omits the realities. The same could be true for peoples social media feeds today. The final out come of the project was to address this, showing both the highs and lows of this pandemic. The banality of life, sometimes in performance. The image of me hoovering, it suddenly struck me to say ‘feet up’, something I have never said before, but my own mother has in the past, and I assume My husbands mother had, as he did exactly what I hoped he would do.

Although my husband is very hands on in the house and we have a very equal domestic ground, I felt being torn as the dynamics changed to me being the one working from home. Therefore leaving most things up to Andy. I felt ‘conflicted’ a ‘bad’ mother and wife, that working was utterly selfish. Unlike Andy my work has always had to fit into my domain of motherhood and this switch even as a ‘feminist’ was difficult because of as suggested in Spences quote above ‘ through hierarchical social relationships’. Society has drummed it into me that this was not acceptable.

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