Stories of Isolation is a project that I have been working on since March 2020, when the pandemic shut the world down. I had just launched the Lambert Phillips Foundation on International Women's Day, on the 8th March that year, only a few days before and I was working on projects in London. Just like everyone else, when the news came that the world was shutting down I suddenly found myself in a very different position. After the initial shock I quickly decided to turn my attention to my work and somehow find a way to tell the story that was unfolding before us.
I am a story teller and that is my job so the idea came to me to somehow build a community of photographers and tell the story not just alone but as a community. My eyes and lens could only see London and more specifically my own street so I thought what about all the other photographers who can only see their own street and town, what if we connect? And this was the simple idea which grew into what became the project, Stories_of_Isolation. I took this photograph (below) in early April 2020 on a surreal day when I took a walk close to my home in London. I found this mother out walking along a deserted street pushing her newborn baby in a small pram. She walked steadily along resolutely passing the Memorial Gates and the words of poet Ben Okra, which are etched into its stone, 'Our future is greater than our past.' I always knew that the job of the documentary photographer was important but in this moment it seemed even more important than ever.
Photographer: Grace Lambert-Phillips (@g_l_p_artist)
As I built the project and searched through hundreds of published photographers works each day on Instagram I could see that there were many of us out there doing the same as I was, documenting their vision and what they could see around them. So I chose to build the project on Instagram, as a place for the photographic community which works in a connective way. Initially I contacted a few photographers who I knew and put the idea to them and it grew from there. I created the hashtag 'stories_of_isolation' and people started to use it and before long there was a community building and I was in communication with photographers all over the world on a daily basis, sometimes involving calls to places like Colombia and Kenya in the early hours of the mornings. It kept me busy and focussed during those strange months anchoring me each day to my purpose, which felt worthwhile and something important to do with this time.
Within a few weeks there were hundreds of photographers within the community and each day I chose a selection of shots to feature on the daily stories and page, a picture of the world was starting to form. The shot below is a self portrait taken by Turkish street photographer, Rana Ozturk, in her home in Mersin, Turkey. Her work was inspiring to me as it showed the creativity of another photographer who was also turning her lens inwards and outwards to her experiences and those of her close community.
Photographer: Rana Ozturk (@rana.ozturk33)
I soon realised that this humble little idea was becoming so much more. To begin with I thought the project would end when then lockdown lifted and I planned to complete it before I moved to Italy that year, towards the end of the summer. But as I reached Italy, in early September, and was then documenting a new country, I found that there were still signs of an unfolding story to be told. Before long the second lockdown was being spoken about then announced officially and I found myself photographing empty streets in Florence. This shot below was taken on the day that the second lockdown was officially announced in Tuscany, when the bars and restaurants were ordered to be closed at 5pm. As I walked home before the curfew that day, I found this masked couple asleep in the afternoon sun resting under one of Vasari's famous archways.
Photographer: Grace Lambert-Phillips (@g_l_p_artist)
So I kept going and the project grew, becoming not just a story about isolation but a record and document of how the world was changing since the pandemic had pushed us all into a different way of living. It became a human story not a news story, we were telling the unfolding and moving story of the world. I also realised that this new era wasn't going to end, it was a corner that had been turned and a new world found behind it and we were documenting it in real time. To me this was exciting and Stories of Isolation evolved and stepped, as the world did, on fresh ground every day. At the beginning of 2022 we added in the new hashtag, Stories_of_inspiration, to go alongside the original one because we could sense the evolution towards something new. There was a lot of isolation to be seen and there still is but it was breaking and moving every day into something more, a sense of connection, of defiance and resilience and this was something to witness. I am very proud of this project and of what it has become and the people whose work I am privileged to share every day. This shot below was taken by the photographer, Vincenzo Barone (@arturobinewski), whose work I have been inspired to share regularly. It depicts a visual poetry which to me is at the heart of this project, a sense between the struggle that we all have felt and witnessed and the undeniable feeling of the resilience and strength of the human being. This is the work of the photographer - to capture the stories that may otherwise pass us all by on the streets everyday, unnoticed. It is my honour to curate this work together and to tell this larger story, one that my camera could not have told alone and in essence to touch on what we are living through as a collective - the essential of human connection, the defiance of youth, the uprising of the suppressed and the poetry of human beings who move through the unknown together.
Photographer: Vincenzo Barone (@arturobinewski)
This summer we are planning to launch an exhibition showcasing Stories of Isolation which will be held at the historical 18th century Villa la Posta in Tuscany, a magical place which is being reimagined as a place of culture and hospitality, since it was made in 1833 for exactly that purpose as a coaching house on the Grand Tour of Italy. We are telling the global story of how the world changed through the eyes and lenses of the greatest photographers in the world. This is a global story. This is our unfolding story. Stories of Isolation.
You may follow the project on Instagram @stories_of_isolation.