From the very first moment people were advised to stay at home and keep a one-and-a-half-metre distance from each other, the photographers set to work and would not put their cameras away until May. At that point, the government announced a first step towards relaxing the restrictions, and schools were cautiously reopening their doors. Some of the photographers ventured into the city, while others were pointing their cameras at life at home. The photographers were given the following brief: make a series of ten photographs to capture the [already at that time] ‘historically important’ situation that we are currently involved in. All photographs have been compiled in the photo book ‘Stil leven - Still Life’, a permanent reminder of this period that visitors can glance through during the exhibition. The Kunsthal is showing two photographs from each series: twelve images that powerfully encapsulate the ways in which the population – in this case of Rotterdam – is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taking the camera into the city
The documentary photographer Marwan Magroun decided to follow Rotterdam residents working in vital professions. His contrasting black and white photographs show facemask-wearing meal couriers and shelf stackers at work. The advice to keep a distance of one and a half metres is printed on the backs of their safety vests. At the Erasmus MC, beds have been prepared and positioned in battle array by a staff member, ready to admit new patients. The architectural and landscape photographer Loes van Duijvendijk also took to the streets. She captured abandoned streets and closed buildings. They are poetic, urban still lives, photographed in vibrant colours. Red and white tape discourages passers-by to sit on the street furniture. Chairs are stacked upside down on top of the bar of a closed coffee shop. With his analogue camera, Willem de Kam captured how daily life is adapting itself to the new reality. A young, quarantined woman is served a millefeuille pastry on her doorstep. De Kam also observed how improvised arrows, protective screens and notice boards started to appear in the outside space. In the spring sunshine, passers-by in the streets are wearing protective scarves around their faces or gloves.
Life at home
“I have no idea how many days I have already been working from home. But I do know exactly how many episodes of The Office I have already watched (fifty),” Ananta writes. For his series, Khalid Amakran has combined portraits and diary excerpts. He shot personal portraits of people in their home environments. The candid text fragments emphasise the boredom, the doubt (‘Maybe I’ve already had it?’), and the absence of loved ones. Geisje van der Linden visited Saif Ahmed Alhaddi in his apartment during the lockdown. Having fled from Yemen to the Netherlands, the pandemic has kept him from being reunited with his family. In Van der Linden’s intimate series we see how Saif is spending his time indoors; he makes video calls with his loved ones, cleans doorknobs, does workouts in his living room, and is learning Dutch. Naomi Modde’s visual story reveals the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on families and education. In her photos, parents are educating their children at the kitchen table, teenagers are struck with boredom, and the dividing lines between work and personal life are fading away in the living room.
After the exhibition, all complete photographic series will be included in the collection of the Rotterdam City Archives.
The hardcover photo book ‘Stil leven - Still Life’, published by Hannibal Books (ISBN 978 94 6388 760 1, €39.50, texts in English and Dutch) features the complete series of all six photographers. Including an essay by writer and television maker Wilfried de Jong and a preface by Hanneke Mantel, photography curator of the Droom en Daad Foundation. Available at the Kunsthal Shop or via email@example.com.