Don’t worry, this isn’t a poor me post! Every single one of us have been affected by the Covid-19 Pandemic. Being out of work pales into insignificance compared to the demands being asked of the NHS medical staff in the UK right now. Seeing as I now have time on my hands this is just my personal experience as a Music, Stage & Tour Photographer in lockdown.
Right now I should have been in some far-flung place shooting Heavy Metal in an enormo-dome somewhere or other. Obviously that got cancelled and so has everything else for the foreseeable future. Maintaining an income as a freelance photographer was difficult before the pandemic so it is hard to imagine what will happen down the line, especially for a Music Photographer? I have been getting away with it on a full-time basis since 1999 so this immediate STOP has been as unique and as unexpected as it is for everyone else. Music gatherings will be one of the last activities to come out of lockdown and the music world has ground to a standstill. Not just musicians but the techs, sound people, lighting, truck drivers, security and the thousands of people all involved in the industry have suddenly found themselves in alien surroundings, home and out of work. Personally I enjoyed the first few weeks of lock down. Suddenly all the stress from work evaporated and my world has been busy keeping my kids entertained and home schooled. We even made a bird table with the off-cuts from my attempt at tree surgery.
The government just announced ‘People can go to work if they cannot do their work at home’ which sounds great but there are no touring musicians on the circuit to photograph. To quell the boredom and to satisfy my creative needs I decided to illustrate the Pandemic using the only willing subjects available to me, my two sons Milo 14 and Archie 11.
We came up with different scenarios to photograph that illustrate the current situation; from washing hands, panic buying, shopping, kids climbing the walls and isolation. Each subject normally agreed over breakfast gave me an outlet to plan each shoot and pacified my creative needs. Each shoot was done on ‘photo shoot Friday’ usually in the garden after dark and gave us a bit of fun. Most of the shots are genuinely shot in camera with minor enhancement and clean-up in photoshop.
In the same way I would approach a music cover shoot I spent a few days planning what I was going to illustrate and set everything up so my ‘artist’s’ could just walk on set (usually our garden) with the minimum of fuss . With just the briefest of briefings we could nail ‘the shoot’ within a few minutes.
Week 1 – PANIC BUYING
This one is self-explanatory really. At the beginning, normal rational people were behaving like it was the apocalypse in the supermarkets, so this one came easy. A smoke machine and an orange gelled single light creates an instant fireball effect when back-lit. Combined with my kids jumping off a chair reaching for a toilet roll – hanging on fishing wire illustrated the madness. This was shot in just 5 takes and neatened up in photo shop. It made us giggle and the post production felt like work (which is a good thing). Shrapnel flying through the air was overlaid to complete the effect.
WEEK 2 – WASH YOUR HANDS
After toilet roll, Hand Sanitiser was the other commodity which was snatched off the shelves. I originally wanted to have them bathing or swimming in the stuff, but 1. that would be weird and 2. it wasn’t warm enough to set-up a pool outside. The next best thing was to have them being showered in it whilst using a grossly over sized container. It was also a good reminder to ensure we regularly washed our hands. I drilled 40 holes in a length of hose pipe and suspended it on a background support and backlit the shower of water. The splash was created by simply pouring a cup of water into Archie’s hands. The stream of water was re-routed to the bottle using photoshop. The original hand sanitiser bottle was a quarter of the size and enlarged also using PS.
WEEK 3 – LOCKDOWN
The boys crawling up the walls was a simple 3 image comp together but needed some mathematics to work out the camera angles. We also had to build fake walls for the boys to position themselves against. My wife in the foreground reading Catch 22 illustrated the awkwardness of having more time with the kids but with the impossibility of having to home school and keep them entertained. The room was lit with a single soft box facing the ceiling and enough bounce light to light the book without making it too well lit. The boys were lit the same but because of the angle change it created an under-lit horror effect making them look less approachable.
WEEK 4 – SHOPPING
Probably the easiest of all the shoots but maybe the most sinister. This shot illustrates exactly how I feel each time I go to the grocery store. I used a smoke machine to build up a haze and simply shot the boys in situation.
WEEK 5 – IMPRISONED
It really wasn’t like prison was it! Although they are being forced to stay at home the sentence isn’t really a difficult one! Snacks, chocolate and gaming! We had the fake chains in our dressing up box and the shadows of the bars are just 4 rectangles cut into an A2 piece of card with a light behind. A soft box was positioned with a blue filter giving the impression of a TV screen in front of them which gives the lighting an uncomfortable mood. We pumped in a bit of smog to add atmosphere. Milo is holding an X-Box controller and Archie is marking the days in lockdown.
WEEK 6 – TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER
OK, by this stage we really lost the plot! I was spending a lot of time scanning past film shoots and listening to the psychedelic band Gong and their infamous album ‘Flying Teapot’. While Boris Johnson was missing in action after catching the Coronavirus, the press were asking who was in charge of the country? This inspired the ‘Take me to your leader’ flying saucer image. This was more difficult than it looked and involved 2 shoots comped together. I made a cardboard flying teapot and shot that in silhouette with smoke. We then built a ramp in the garden and a doorway using drapes on a background support and shot the boys with guitars! Quite insane really but a lot of fun!
Week 7 – WE WILL NEVER SURRENDER
This was directed at those who were flouting the lockdown. What was being asked of us compared to those who gave their lives in the First and Second World War was easy in comparison. The hardship of having to stay at home and watch Netflix is laughable to the generation that actually had to go to war. The last push before we go over the top (although this is over the top!). Probably the last photo shoot for a while as this has more than pacified my need to move camera equipment around and my photoshop needs to cool down! This was in honour of VE day! Fairly complex to shoot we built 2 sets in the garden. The first (on the right) was an armchair on its side and instead of bomb shrapnel raining down it is popcorn. Archie is covering his ears because of Boris, not bombs! Milo is going over the top with a pair of barbwire cutters disconnecting the TV. The background is an artwork made from old royalty free World War One photographs and Australian bush fire images. The fences and barbwire were mostly hand drawn. The smoke was real and we used chocolate fingers to look like bullets in the ammo tin. Lastly the boys dressed in khaki uniform with boots and a real tin hat.
Shooting and planning these shoots has given me some purpose during these difficult weeks. I have also enjoyed the post production on each image without any outside distractions or urgency of a deadline. They also serve as a reminder of how crazy 2020 was! Looking forward to 2021.
ALL IMAGES AND TEXT COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2020.