We are witnessing disregard for basic human rights in every continent: restricted access to health care, lack of government transparency, deepened poverty, inadequate financial protection, racial discrimination and increased risk of domestic abuse.
In the UK, years of austerity measures, subsequent cuts to important social services and years of public spending over Brexit had already severely damaged public services, imperilled human rights and restricted collective and individual freedoms. Covid-19 has exacerbated this pre-existing damage. What we are witnessing day after day is the culmination, or rather the unravel, of years of political, social and economic failure.
Photographers and photojournalists have submitted material to this dossier giving us a powerful insight into human frailty at the hands of injustice and the inequalities being intensified in new and tragic ways during the pandemic. Contributors have highlighted the plight of key workers, documented the Black Lives Matter protests during the pandemic and the conditions for those living on Skid Row in L.A.
These are issues we need to see, reflect upon and action.
Mexico City: Informal Workers During the Pandemic
In March 2020 I found myself in Mexico as the pandemic spread throughout the country. Being on site during the beginning of the formal quarantine announced by the government, I became aware of the large amount of workers who were filling the streets. I wanted to understand exactly why they continued to take these risks. I carried out interviews with various street workers and took portraits all from a safe distance. I thought it was important to bring attention to those who have been left aside without government support and are vulnerable because they lack any protection.
In Mexico City 49.7% of the population work in the so-called “informal economy”. This means that 5 out of 10 workers are neither monitored nor protected by the Government. This category of people include vendors, street performers, artisans, artists, sex workers, among others. The very nature of their work puts them in contact with a high number of people so that they potentially have more chances to contract and pass on the virus. Despite that, for many to abandon the streets means being completely unable to provide subsistence for them and their relatives.
The need to bring home a daily income has lead many street vendors to find a smart solution to overcome the crisis. Women and men sells disinfectant gels, cartoon themed face masks and even natural medications to prevent the virus.“I am not scared about this, I survived so many difficulties in my life: earthquakes, diseases, poverty… I am not going to be stopped by this virus”said Martha, a natural remedies seller. The general attitude is a mix of mistrust towards the authorities, fatalism and a pragmatism to creatively overcome the issue.
Through a Car Window
I didn’t think much when I started this project. It was May and we had been in “lockdown” for something like a month already. I was really bored and desperately needed to have some sort of connection with the outside world, even if it was through a car window, so I took my camera out for a drive.
My photographs gave me a freeze frame of my own environment ponder over, so I started writing some daily thoughts on instagram. It was the first time I really paid attention to Skid Row and the first time I really stopped to think about the people on the streets. Homelessness exposes you to so much yet make you invisible at the same time, it’s not something that can be fixed with a few hot meals and the occasional room hand out. These remedies slow the descent but doesn’t help to lift people out of poverty. These are humanitarian aids, a phrase we seldom use in the United States for domestic issues. It almost feels like a taboo topic, that the streets of one of the richest places in one of the most powerful if not the most powerful is desperate for humanitarian aid, a phrase we usually reserve for 3rd world countries. If you stand in the streets here, you’d think you were in one. We desperate need change. Whether you are left or right, this is our reality, a nation so fixated on being number one that we are willing to trample the victims of social injustice, even if they were our own. Ironic, since we are quick to scream human rights everywhere else. I guess that’s who we are, a nation fixated on pointing out what everyone else is doing wrong instead of working together to do the right thing. Covid-19 has exposed us raw, so here we are, ignorant and proud, hurling towards herd immunity, every class for themselves.
Feeding the Need
During lockdown the Hammersmith & Fulham Foodbank had to close the doors of their locations in the neighbourhood and adapt to an upcoming new reality without knowing when it will all end. All the food banks of the council, the workers and the volunteers, united together and found a base in the event venue Olympia London. There, they put together a highly organised system, dividing all the food donations, toiletries and other basic necessities ready to be delivered with volunteer cycles and taxi drivers. Talking to the volunteers I understand that people who use food banks can be anyone of us: people in unfortunate situations, people on 0 hour contracts, people who most of their salary goes on rent and don’t have much left for basic necessities, families; Covid-19 just enhanced the already existing problems we had and an even more need for food banks.
Frontline Key Workers play Russian Roulette
Little did we know that a catastrophic worldwide health crisis would bring us all to our knees and makes us realise how intrinsic are we all to each other: from the frontline worker to the staying-at-home individual. The individuals who for some time have played a crucial and critical role to the Covid-19 response: our very frontline key workers, happen to play Russian Roulette with their health and their families’. Day in and day out. Many of the workers on the frontline have often worked without PPE, which has meant a significant risk factor for picking up the virus and unknowingly carrying it home to their families or vulnerable family members who they share toilets or communal facilities with.
When people have finally started to build the community spirit we once lost, and ultimately start to care for each other – either going out to work or staying at home – it seems like only the government has successfully failed to provide tailored and essential support to frontline workers and their communities.
Injustices during the Covid-19 pandemic have pursued and have endured; laid bare amongst breadwinners who were simply battling to secure their family’s basic necessities, at the cost of facing the very enemy, which remained invisible and unprecedented at all times, on a daily basis.
Will we ever bridge citizens and the system?
Who will intervene for us?
Volunteering in London during the Pandemic
The lockdown in the UK started more than three months ago, disrupting everyone life, exactly like in the rest of the world. The number of deaths quickly increased, the streets suddenly were empty and people in vulnerable situation grown up out of all proportion.
In a residential area of London commonly called Brownswood Road in Finsbury Park, people organised themselves thanks to the Mutual Aid group. That is not an isolated case or a good example of a neighbourhood, Mutual Aid a reality that happened in every area of London and Great Britain.
Here, during the pandemic weeks more than 250 people joined the local Mutual Aid group to become volunteers. The activities they carry out are several: from the delivery of shopping to quarantined or elderly people, to the donation of clothes to the homeless community (hosted at the expense of the municipality in a neighbourhood hotel), to telephone support for anyone in need. A group of people without any political, religious or other belonging who have decided to help their community in a totally voluntary way.
In addition to the Mutual Aid community, another group has expanded its support activities: the volunteer group from the local Church of Saint John the Evangelist. The Anglican church located in Queens Drive has been providing twice a week hot meals ready for the needy and three times a week a food bank distributing basic necessities such as canned food, personal hygiene and personal care products.”Everything has been given to us by supermarkets, local shops and citizens” explains Elizabeth, a volunteer for three years.
The charming habit of this historical moment has created a synergistic collaboration between the two groups. “it’s not only about sharing spaces” as explained by Rosie, head of the Mutual Aid group, “we needed a physical place where we could store donations, where to store clothes before distributing them to the people in need and pastor Alice offered us to use the premises of the church “but it is also” a mutual aid that the two groups to achieve the common goal.”
Two-thirds of the food banks in London have closed during these weeks increasing the difficult situations among the people in need. “We have increased the social distancing measures, providing hand sanitizer for everyone, placing chairs spaced so that people keep a safe distance while waiting for the food and delivering bags with ready food, because we don’t have the chance, as before, to invite people to eat inside our premises ”explains Anne who has been volunteering for more than four years with her son.
BLACK LIVES MATTER Protest in Southampton
BLACK LIVES MATTER Protest in Brighton
BLACK LIVES MATTER Campaign
On the 5thJune 2020 with just over 1 days’ notice, via a private Facebook group set up by a local campaigner and through word of mouth around 150 Whitstable people turned out for a social distanced event on the beach. It was in solidarity and to Support the BLACK LIVES MATTER Campaign against the murders, violence, and systematic racism towards black people and an end white privilege. JUSTICE AND EQUALITY FOR ALL was the theme and local people and residents spoke to the supportive crowd.
Daydreamings and White Lies
The Covid-19 pandemic caught everyone unprepared, showing the limits of decades of widespread
predatory policies on the NHS.
As a person affected by chronic neurological conditions, I was deeply affected by London lockdown. I
had respiratory reactions to medications but was never able to talk to my GP, and ended up calling 111
and going to the Emergency more than twice.
Misdiagnosed with Covid-19 and worried about my family in Southern Italy, I video-called my parents
every evening for two months, hiding my health issues to them.
The contrast between my sleepless nights and my evening play for the family created two parallel
narratives. They did not only protect my parents from useless worries, but also helped me to keep a
distance from the black hole many persons with neurological conditions dashed in.
This is my very personal pandemic visual diary, a mix of dreamy atmospheres shot with makeshift
kaleidoscopic mobile lens and hints into the daily life of my corner of London.
Photo Editor: Cinzia D’Ambrosi
Cover photo: ©Julie Huang
MANY THANKS TO ALL CONTRIBUTORS
If you have work which highlights the social injustices that are being intensified by Covid-19 please submit your work to the Photojournalism Hub. We will be updating this dossier page on a monthly basis. Submit by July 30th to be included in August’s selection.