Photos on phones

The women who come to my groups at Speedwell Children’s Centre have been magnificent in fitting in work around their caring commitments, developing their teaching skills, and keeping their families on an even emotional keel.

They already had a WhatsApp group where they share ideas and images for our projects, and as we went into lockdown this group became very active as a place to pass on information and offer each other support, so it seemed a natural progression to use it as somewhere to engage in creative projects.

Making Rainbows
At the beginning, lots of people were putting rainbows in their windows as a sign of hope and solidarity, and the first project I initiated was called Making Rainbows in response to this. I posted a photo of the chosen colour every day – and people responded by taking their own photos and posting them to the group. At the end of each day, I put the images together as a collage and posted it back to the group.

There were two ingredients that felt very important for people to be able to engage successfully: number one was the simplicity of the task because they had spoken about feeling very anxious and having a much shorter concentration span than usual – not least because they were all caring for children at home. So the task needed to be clear and quite prescriptive, whilst still leaving enough room to interpret it. The second key ingredient was me posting the collage at the end of each day because this created a feedback loop where we could all see our work valued and as part of a greater whole.

Cuppa conversation
Someone mentioned how much they missed our cups of tea and chats, and so I suggested that we post photos of our drinks as we had them at home and share them on the WhatsApp group. I then put them into a collage with some of the snippets of conversation that had accompanied them.
Cuppa conversation
This result was a ccollective piece of work sparked by a small but meaningful remark, and if you look closely there’s humour in the comments that go back and forth, and insights to be gained about the curious situation we’d all suddenly found ourselves in. Someone is saying she feels busier than ever; a couple of people are discussing their favourite drinks; someone is talking about working from home; someone else is mentioning feeling a loss of control; another is hoping that everyone is keeping safe and well. I think it tells us something about the friedship and support in the group, and by making this piece of work together we reinforced that we value those things for ourselves and each other.

By the time we were one month into lockdown it was apparent that people were struggling with multiple uncertainties and that the most useful thing I could do was to try to offer a solid container that could hold people’s images and continue give them a sense of being stitched into the group. So I suggested that we make our own alphabet and we spent the next 26 days doing a letter a day.

The simplicity of this idea made it easy enough for people to participate whilst leaving enough room for individual voices and cultures to emerge. For example: the sign language letters, the sleeping child, the tents and tawa, and the domestic nature of many of the images taken by women in their homes.