As Coronavirus continues to spread throughout the world, it is increasing social injustices and bringing inequalities to the forefront. In this fifth edition, documentary photographer David Gilbert Wright shares the touching photo story of Paul, a homeless man who he became friends with during the current pandemic. This photo story highlights the impact of years of austerity on the most poor and exposes the further impact of the outbreak on them. The story of Paul speaks of the many which were already at the receiving end of funding cuts and support and they now in a lot worse conditions. These are issues we need to see, reflect upon and action.
Homeless and Locked Down Paul’s Story
by David Gilbert Wright
It was springtime, and the weather was beautiful. The skies had been clear for several weeks and the sun had been warming up the earth. But this was no normal spring. England was in the grips of an unknown pandemic and the Government had ordered a lockdown. Everyone but a few, were staying home. Buses and trains were empty, roads were empty and we were all trying to adapt to a new way of living. Rules about when you can go out and for what were in place. The population were being ‘frightened’ into believing that hundreds and thousands would catch this new virus and many would die. I was out walking the dog in nearby woods when I came across a tent pitched deep in a thicket, out of sight. I was intrigued. It took several more days before I plucked up the courage to investigate. That was when I met Paul. He was homeless and living in these woods. He was locked down too! Over the next 3-4 months I got to know Paul and he is the subject of this story.
Paul is 52 years old. He had a brother who died in his forties and a sister. He told me that his Mum left home when he was 15 years old. That was the start of things. “I left home and came to London. London was a terrible place back then and being homeless was very dangerous. I was sleeping rough when some one picked me up and took me along to a kind of hostel. You had to ‘book’ a night and then get out in the morning. I think they felt sorry for me and gave me a job sweeping and cleaning the rooms. That saved me. I lived in a house in Thurrock at some point and had a sort of job. I had to go sick and so I lost that job and couldn’t pay the rent so they evicted me. I have been on the move ever since. I don’t like towns. They are too scary. I decided to get a tent and live out in the country somewhere so here I am”. He got up and started to make a little fire. “Now it is warming up, the midges are starting to get on my nerves so I light a fire and the smoke keeps them away” he said laughing.
Paul often walked up to the town. He had broken his hip some time in the recent past and suffered from terrible sciatica. “I have to take pain-killers” he told me, “so I come up to the chemist every week or two to get me repeat prescription. Trouble is, people try to mug me and take my drugs”. We sat for a while in the warm sun and then this woman came along. Her name was Lizzie. She told me that she was what some call a ‘sofa-surfer’. “That’s someone who is homeless and manages to get a place to sleep in someone’s house.” She was in her 50s and had been homeless since the breakdown of her marriage. She was very guarded but alluded to being badly abused and beaten by her partner until she couldn’t stand it anymore and managed to escape. She had several grown-up children and managed to see them occasionally but she also was living a hard life. She told me how difficult it was in the winter. ‘We both try to find something a bit more permanent if we can because you can freeze at nights’ Paul told me.
We were talking in his encampment in the woods one day and he started to tell me about his Faith. It surprised me somewhat. He rummaged around in his tent, beer can in one hand and pulled out a book. It was the Pilgrim’s Progress by Chaucer. I see myself as a kind of pilgrim, always on the move. I am like the guy in the book, in search of something. It is something I can identify with. He rummaged a bit more and pulled out another book. “This is my Bible”. He said “I pray everyday. I try to speak to God. I think He loves me despite my faults. He loves me unconditionally. He does not expect me to change. I feel he forgives me for all the stuff I have done. He is my rock. Later that morning, we were walking up to the town together and he started reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
I asked Paul what he did for food. He told me that he visited a food bank in Brentwood. He told me where it was and I realised that it must take him nearly an hour to walk to it because he was very slow, due to his arthritis and needing a crutch to help. “They are very good and deliver stuff to me sometimes”. The food bank only opens twice a week between 10 and 12 midday. Paul was not usually an early riser. I often got to his tent mid-morning to find him sound asleep. “Jem looks after me. He will always open up if he is around”. So one afternoon we set off on the walk to the Food Bank. We talked about all kinds of things as we walked. Steve was the priest. He found a whole lot of food and Paul was so pleased with the large tin of assorted biscuits, like you get at Christmas. It was then that I realised first-hand how important these food banks are to people like Paul.
“I used to have another guitar but when I stayed a night with this woman she stole it and sold it for 5. Probably spent the money on drugs. Someone gave me another one then a bloke grabbed it off of me. I chased and tracked him down to this shed and got it back. Thing is, the E string was broken, that’s why I haven’t managed to replace it yet. I do a bit of busking to earn a few bob. I like Reggae and Punk and usually do a bit of both or improvise”. He started strumming something with a reggae beat and then sun along. He was making the words up and they were about him and his God or ‘Jah’ as he liked to call Him. On another occasion, we were walking past a charity shop and he saw a violin in the window. He went in and persuaded the assistant to let him try it out. Clearly, Paul was musical. When he came out, I asked what he thought of the violin. “The strings on the bow were all frayed so it was not a good bargain”.
“Some guys came to my camp one night and tried to rob me. It is very dark here in the night and they didn’t have lights. I am pretty good in the dark because I know where everything is. I managed to roll away into the undergrowth and just hide. They couldn’t find me and got very angry. I heard them say something and then heard a ripping sound. Once they had gone I discovered they had ripped me tent. This isn’t the first time” he said pulling out a roll of Gaffer Tape and starting to repair the ripped canvas. Camping out in the woods his not such a halcyon existence!
As the days wore on, I noticed Paul’s demeanor change. He didn’t seem so happy-go-lucky. At one point in June he disappeared for a couple of weeks. He had a phone but often as not, he had no credit or it the battery was flat. Out of the blue, I got a call from him. He told me he had been in hospital. I asked what was up and he said “I have been feeling very low and things got to much and I tried to top me self”. He told me he was being transferred to another hospital and hoped to be out soon. I went by his camp each day to check on things and one day I found him asleep in his tent. He was out of food so I went with him to the food bank. Jem was just leaving but when Paul told him about his illness, he agreed to open up and give him some supplies. Jem went off inside and we sat out in the sun. Paul was sitting very quietly waiting. I couldn’t help seeing the picture in front of me. Here was someone who really needed to talk.
While Paul was in hospital his tent got vandalized again. “Someone slashed it again” he said. I told him I had seen a bunch of teenage kids riding around his camp. “All me stuff got soaked cos the rain came through the whole” he lamented. Paul looked like a shadow of the man I had first met. As we sat quietly, he hung his head and said “I’m not happy, I don’t like living like this. People think I’m happy but I’m not.” I could see he had tears in his eyes. He looked up to the sky and shouted “This is not Heaven!” It was then that I realised that he yearned for the safety and security of a home and a family that many of us take for granted.
I saw Paul several more times then he disappeared and I never saw him again. I don’t know what came of him. All I do know is that when I went back to his camp one evening, I found that his tent had been pulled down, poles broken, bedding scattered around and his clothes flung into the surrounding bushes. Then I spotted his guitar or what was left of it. It was completely smashed up and the pieces were strewn around near what used to be his campfire. But that wasn’t the thing that really got me! As I looked around I noticed something white under a bush amidst the leaf mold of the forest. I went closer and realised I was looking at the discarded copy of his Bible. It was open at the penultimate chapter of the New Testament. It is about Jude, who was also a traveler. He went from city to city spreading the gospel. His name was Judas but has become shortened. He was a living example of faithfulness to Jesus Christ, in contrast to Judas Iscariot who betrayed Him. The picture of the Bible, its pages dirty, crumpled and tattered is a poignant ending to this story about someone who was also ‘discarded’ and homeless during the Lockdown.
If you have work which highlights the social injustices that are being intensified or laid bare by Covid-19 please submit your work to the Photojournalism Hub. Next deadline is the 4th January 2021. Please submit your work to Cinzia D’Ambrosi, email@example.com Further details on how to submit on our Submission page https://photojournalismhub.org/contribute-submissions/
As Coronavirus continues to spread throughout the world, it is increasing social injustices and bringing inequalities to the forefront.
In this fourth edition we show you two strong photography contributions. Firstly, Erhan Us shares a powerful insight into women’s lives and the harm that is inflicted upon them by patriarchal family structures in Iran which is being exacerbated during the pandemic. Secondly, Jo Fountain shares interviews and photographs that focus on the pandemic’s impact upon communities in Manchester.
These are issues we need to see, reflect upon and action.
By Erhan Us
‘The Mummy Project is created to criticise the ‘ornamentation’ and disidentification of women in Iranian society that have their freedoms and preferences exploited. Since lockdown, I wanted to raise awareness on the harm patriarchal family structures incur onto women’s identity and equal rights.‘
Us is a conceptual artist and author. After studying at Bilkent University in TH Management; he was granted to 25+ local and international / honorary awards. He has participated in 70+ exhibitions in 20+ countries. He continues his studies in Sociology & Philosophy at Istanbul and Anadolu Universities. Us is a member of Photographic & Visual Arts Federations, whose book ‘Digital Prestige’ was published in 2018.
“It is true that this world where we have difficulty breathing Now inspires in us only evident disgust A desire to flee without further ado And we no longer read the headlines” A Disappearance by Houellebecq
‘This photo project aims to break down social barriers to reflect how people have stood together as a community during this time despite extreme isolation. It allows us to see the common threads of human experience and within this highlight inequalities and injustices amongst us. There is a power of support and acknowledgement that this is a shared responsibility. We stand together to create our own narratives. The portraits have been collected from around Manchester in the UK and with an open brief people were asked to write messages and signs to summarise their experiences or give words of support out to the world. The response has been varied, highlighting familiar phrases, funny, invites protest, politically charged, esoteric, others personal. Accompanying the portraits are interviews collecting oral histories of personal experiences and issues that have been highlighted such as effects of isolation on mental health, issues with state support responses, social care, lack of funding, and prejudices that have been brought to the foreground to be questioned.
Overwhelmingly people have struggled with the constant and crushing weight of relentless news stories covering daily atrocities and global crisis. There is a network of support around you if you look for it and take part. The window acts as both a lens and a reflection on the messages that have been created. It highlights the power of the word, graffiti, and protest banners. Even in simplified language, and sometimes especially, there is a re-narration of our view of the world.‘
It’s been awful. Just fucking awful. I’ve had many conversations with people and they’re like “I don’t think the pandemic’s been that bad. I’ve been able to think about me and do my yoga and do my music and do my cooking and I’m like fuck you. Tens of thousands of people have died. Fuck you. I’ve absolutely hated it. I genuinely thought I would never see my mum again and that was awful. I’ve not been able to see my niece, like, see’s only a week and a half old but … my brother wasn’t even in the same fucking hospital when his baby went blue. It’s been fucking awful.
It’s been really tough with my mum but even that’s loads better now. Since we’ve been able to see her she’s been loads better. We can’t ‘see’ her, see her, we can just see her through the glass but now that she knows we’re alive I think she’s … I rang her yesterday. So when you ring her you sing songs and sometimes she would join in and sometimes she doesn’t. But yesterday she was singing all the songs and then she made up a little song. She made up this little melody, so I finished singing a song and she just kept singing this little melody she had made up. Adorable. We’re four of us, she’s got four children and we’re all really engaged with her care and really engaged with all of it…. old people with Alzheimer’s I can’t imagine, like millions of people would have died of loneliness.
My friend has got a chronic lung condition and he’s gonna get a letter through the door soon saying it’s OK, you don’t have to shield anymore. He isn’t going to go out the house. If he gets it he will die. So he’s going to loose his job now because the government said he can work now, but he can’t work. They are just not able to test or trace where anything is so you are having these local flare ups like Leister is in lockdown again. Apparently Bradford is really bad and fucking nobody knows what’s going on because they never managed to get rid of the virus anyway and they can’t test for it, or trace for it in the way that would be useful because they’re fucking useless. So people like him will just never be able to leave the house. Or, when am I ever able to give my mum a hug? Children died, children died on their own, it’s awful. Then you’ve got fucking Dominic Cummings driving up to Durham. It’s just awful. People died alone, people couldn’t hold their dying children. I’m working on this local economic… it’s called Local Economic Development but it’s basically how local authorities shape their economies. It’s called Community Wealth
Building, and the whole idea is retaining and creating wealth within the communities. So right now we have a model, for example, if a hospital got it’s laundry done by a local supplier instead of say, Serco. That wealth goes back into the local area, so that local people get employed to do that work and they then spend their money in the local shops and cafes.
In my opinion they should have had lockdown much earlier than they did. Not like you can go out one exercise a day or… like all of that shit that was completely un-policeable so everyone is just doing the fuck they wanted. Obviously we don’t have a fucking police force because they cut that to shit so they had no-one to police it anyway but .. got rid of the virus then we could have had a gradual easing of the Lockdown.. But because we didn’t really lockdown hard enough and we definitely didn’t lockdown early enough we’re in this kind of semi-lockdown, until when?
This is a crisis of globalisation. This crisis basically means the end of Globalisation because it was able to travel so fast and because when trade ceased and when the borders closed, Britain in particular was in a real problem because we don’t have places that produce PPE or places that produce hand sanitiser and we had to mobilise our industries to try and create these things and we had mass shortages. This is why the supermarkets ran out of food. Instead of having spare stuff to sell it’s as and when you need it, and we’re gonna have to move away from that model. Basically we have to make our supply chains much smaller to be able to cope with things like this. People are making tonnes of money out of this it’s perverse. So people that already have money can make more money but people that have no money are just fucked.
The entire world is in transition and transitions are very unnerving and we have no idea what the other side is gonna look like and it’s incredibly anxiety inducing then on top of that hundreds of thousands of people had died. And you read things like today the US has bought up all of this specific drug. It’s not a vaccine but it’s basically like right well so… Africa can just die. India can just die. Europe can just die. So the way that patents work is that you make money out of curing diseases, which also applies to pandemics. It’s just fucked. So you have to disengage a bit, I think.
“I was freaking out because I couldn’t get any food, and it was like what the fuck, how am I going to do this!?
I stick my foot out of the window with a bucket on a string and wait for attractive ladies to come and give me food. But I’m still waiting for them man! I’m starving!
I joke. Dad dropped some stuff off and my mate Mark came with 4 big bags of stuff and I ate chicken boob for about 25 days. The government food package took about 3/4 weeks. I could have dropped dead in that time if people hadn’t have been there. It was pretty nuts. For a lot of understandable reasons people have been very critical of the governments response, but once this food thing was started it was incredible the way that they were getting through to people like us. I got a letter from the the doctors saying that I needed to shield. The way it effects Cerebral Palsy is that even when I get a cold, if I start coughing, my whole body shakes and I have to hold on to something to stop myself falling forward. My body kind of goes all over the place. I think they said that I was okay to calm me down because I was freaking out.
The next thing was, you need to stop yourself going mad, and work, like I say I’ve not worked since 1997. I would have gone super loopy without writing for theatre. That, and I have been making Grandmaster Pea videos. A character I had developed before, who claims he is the Tsar of the disabled, although he is self-appointed.
I kind of felt that there was something coming and I needed to be more safe than other people. I got this feeling and I just shut the door and that was it. That was 3 and something
months ago. I would say that lockdown has been difficult. Just trying to keep yourself going. Once you’ve found a way of doing that, it’s okay. It was worse for me because I lost my Mum as well. She got ill last September and died just before Christmas and dealing with that has been tough. It wouldn’t really go away. I was really close to her and you know, she doesn’t leave me, but that doesn’t stop you missing somebody. It’s a weird acceptance but also hell.
My twin brother is in a residential home which has had people with Covid in so that’s been a concern, but I’ve been phoning and face timing him and he’s fine with being shut in because he is on a bed a lot of the time. It’s kind of normal for him. He has the staff and he has some connection. It is terrible, I’m not saying it’s great, but what I am saying is that in terms of my brother, he doesn’t come out of his room much, he watches TV so it’s been a different experience for him because we cannot visit.
They had the problem like a lot of people, where they couldn’t get PPE, and so thats the other thing about Grandmaster Pea as well, I gave some of the videos to a comedy night to help raise money for actors who needed food. That was good, I felt like I was doing things for other people, at a time when I felt like I couldn’t do anything or help. As a
disabled person, you don’t actually get the opportunity to give back to people. This was a time when I could do that.
I also gave money to the NHS in Mums memory, because she was a midwife, and quite complicatedly she was a midwife, and we were born on the ward she ran. She had brought many babies into the world and saved them from the fate that me and Christopher were not saved from. She always blamed herself I think. We had conversations about it, I think she wanted to be working and giving birth at the same time. I think she felt guilty, which she shouldn’t have done, but I think that she did, bless her. Unfortunately the NHS let her down a number of times. So, that was difficult because everyone was clapping and I was angry and annoyed, but I still gave money to them.
When she died she wasn’t treated well, they made what was a very difficult situation worse. They said under no circumstances can you move this woman as she won’t be able to walk, and that’s what they did. It’s really difficult to process that kind of brutality. I mean this is a woman who gave years of her life caring for people. She learnt Arabic in the early 70s and felt that people should be understood. That was the incredible thing about her. What killed me, was she was that compassionate and helped people and that’s how the
NHS sort of thanked her for it. So I have a really weird relationship with them. I mean when the thing with PPE happened I gave money to that immediately. A big chunk of money, not that I’m a millionaire but I felt it was important. The idea that people were risking their lives to save other people, it’s an amazing thing that people wanted to do that, and that they were brave enough to do it. The idea that they were not being given the support was just disgusting”
To keep up with the story, or take part please visit lockedinlight.com or re-post your own using the signedtimes hashtag. Extend perceptions, deepen resonances, reinforce connections. Jo’s has a background in Visual Anthropology, oral history and photojournalism.
If you have work which highlights the social injustices that are being intensified or laid bare by Covid-19 please submit your work to the Photojournalism Hub. We will be adding a dossier page on a monthly basis. Submit by October 30th to be included in the next dossier.
Cinzia D’Ambrosi, founder/director of the Photojournalism Hub is in conversation with Asha Mukanda, activist, writer and executive assistant of the Open Institute in Kenya. The conversation surrounds the impact that the current pandemic is having on the existing issue of health disparities and police brutality in Kenya. https://studio.youtube.com/video/Q8zt–YMiUc/edit
INJUSTICES AND INEQUALITIES TALK WITH SABRINA MEROLLA
An inspiring and insightful conversation with Sabrina who is a photojournalist creating work about her own invisible health conditions. Not only to cope with them herself but in order to help others, and highlight the way CV-19 has effected many like her. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-_ua9Yi57E
INJUSTICES AND INEQUALITIES TALK WITH ERICA DEZONNE
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.
Photographers and photojournalists have submitted material to the Photojournalism Hub’s Third Edition of the Injustices & Inequalities Covid:19 Open Call. The work in this dossier page gives 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 to this edition have highlighted economic inequalities in Italy, the critical lack of water in an area of the Republic of the Congo and how people in the UK are struggling with lockdown.
These are issues we need to see, reflect upon and action.
Daily Life: Coronavirus Water Woes
Every day, often in the pre-dawn darkness, countless women and children in the eastern Congolese city of Goma set out loaded down with scuffed yellow jerry cans to collect water for their families. The sprawling capital of North Kivu province sits on the rugged volcanic shores of Lake Kivu, a 90-kilometer long, 50-kilometer wide body of water, and one of Africa’s Great Lakes.
Goma is also is a major hub for the world’s second largest United Nations Peacekeeping operation and for hundreds of humanitarian aid organizations that spend millions of dollars monthly on local operations, and yet the city has virtually no running water. Many of the upscale hotels dotted along the city’s scenic waterfront have water delivered by pumps or by trucks.
The rest of the city’s two million inhabitants get their water for drinking, washing, and cooking either directly from the lake or from water sellers who charge up to ten times more than Regideso, the public utility responsible for supplying water in Congo’s urban areas. Charities also distribute water in tanker trucks, but there is never enough and water taken directly from the lake or from other contaminated sources causes frequent outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. Deadly reservoirs of methane and carbon dioxide gases also lurk beneath Lake Kivu’s surface, putting people collecting water at risk of asphyxiation and death. And as Congo contends with both coronavirus and an Ebola epidemic, the lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene is putting millions of people at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.
Congo passed a law in 2015 making access to water and sanitation a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. It also stipulated that such services ” are not free” and shifted the responsibility for maintaining infrastructure to the provincial level.
Goma’s water woes are a microcosm for the rest of the country. Congo is Africa’s most water-rich country, holding more than half of the continent’s fresh water reserves, but 75% of the country’s 80 million people have no access to safe drinking water and sanitation. This, coupled with poor hygiene, are among the top five risk factors associated with death and disability in the country. The long hours spent waiting for and transporting water also limits the time adults have to earn income or for children to attend school. Congolese women and girls are exposed to physical, sexual, moral and psychological violence during water collection, according to UNICEF.
“We wake up at 9pm, or midnight, or 2am, we don’t sleep,” said Maman Gentille, who was wrapped in a thick blanket for warmth while waiting in the dark at a water point. “There are people who can wait two days without getting any water. And for us women, it’s perilous because we can be raped by bandits and then be abandoned by our husbands.”
“The solution would be for Regideso to supply water into people’s homes for those who can afford it,” said Aziza Bitnu, who operates one of the city’s communal water points. “And those who can’t can always still come to the water points.”
But with little capacity and poor governance, the country relies on outside support. The World Bank’s Urban Water Supply Project is a $190-million initiative to restructure and improve the performance of Regideso. Mercy Corps is also implementing a seven-year UK government-funded program that aims to provide improved access to water, sanitation, and hygiene up to a million people in Goma and Bukavu, a city located at the southern end of Lake Kivu. Such projects span years, however, and don’t meet the immediate needs of Goma residents struggling for clean water.
“They say that water is life, but we don’t have access to it,” said Maman Gentille, still waiting her turn in the darkness. “Yes, it is free but we don’t see how that matters when we don’t get any.”
From January 1 to June 30, 2020, 162 femicides occurred in Argentina. To this scenario of violence was added the “preventive and obligatory social isolation” decreed by the government since March 20, which aggravated the situation. Women victims of gender violence are more exposed during quarantine, since in most cases they live with their aggressor. Until June 30, 82 women were murdered by men, where 78% of the femicides were committed in the victim’s home. In this particular moment, where femicides continue to increase (ONU calls it “the other pandemic”) and the characteristics of isolation aggravate it, many women are unable to isolate themselves from their aggressors.
Covid19 pandemic is a worldwide problem, as are the femicides, particularly in Latin America, which is one of the regions with the highest rates of gender violence. In this project we look at the uncomfortable, focus on the femicide and how isolation affects and increases gender violence and femicide. We are interested in digging into their stories, running the surface of each case and ask ourselves who is this man? where male violence nest when in its greatest degree goes so far as to kill a woman because of her condition as such?
Rueda photos are Daiana Valencia and Celeste Alonso. Both are freelance photojournalists and documentary photographers, based in Buenos Aires Argentina. As collective they deal with gender, social, cultural and current affairs issues. Their first work was in Haiti covering the presidential campaign of candidate Maryse Narcisse in the October 2015 elections. They have published in media such as El Pais de España, Cosecha Roja, Revista Crisis, El Grito del Sur, Bex Magazine and British Journal of Photography. They work “30000” was selected and exhibited at the Haroldo Conti Cultural Centre of Memory,2017. Argentina In October 2017 they were selected to participate in the Photographic Brigades of the FIFV (Valparaiso Photography Festival) where they developed the work “Diversidadxs” which was exhibited in the Plaza La Victoria in Valparaiso, Chile. Images of different works are part of the book “Ser mujer Latinoamericana”, Mexico 2018. They won the best portfolio in the Biennial of Documentary Photography in Tucumán, Argentina 2018. They participated in the collective exhibition organized by House of Girls, Berlin, Germany 2018. They won third place in the “Photographic Memory: Migration and Human Rights in South America” contest, December 2018. Part of their work ” Morenada porteña” was published by World Press Photo and AJ Español in 2019. As a collective they are part of the Foto-Feminas and WomenPhotography platform.
Since the beginning of the spread of the Corona virus and the imposition of curfews in Egypt, people have started to restore old habits, discover new ones, or change their old habits. Some people have become closer to their families by spending a lot of time together watching TV , cooking , conversing, laughing. This was not their usual way of life. This is happening because people are in lock down and have more time which they can use to spend with their families and getting away from feeling of depression .. It is a time like a truce.
People have started to discover themselves, what have they done , and what will they do next. They also invest their time indoor in learning new things, practising a new sport or content themselves in relaxing activities such as spending their time playing or chatting with friends through social media and video.
Daniele Napolitano (Photography) and Serena Chiodo (Article)
“Our effort should be an exception, instead we realize that it is and will be normal,” says Pietro Vicari, a member of the Quarticciolo neighbourhood committee. Thirty years old, he lives in a six-storey building, once the Casa del fascio, then the police headquarters. Now it’s a residential occupation, on the facade of which stands a huge mural of Blu. It stands out in the center of Quarticciolo, a neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of Rome. Blocks of council houses one in line with the other for about six thousand inhabitants, many of whom have been waiting for a council house for years: in the meantime they make do as they can, often in cellars and in overcrowded conditions. The unemployment rate is very high compared to central areas of the city, as is the school drop-out rate. Speaking of abandonment, the role of the institutions comes to mind: totally absent. A lack that manifested itself in all its seriousness during the health emergency linked to Covid-19.
The emergency within the emergency
“I used to do a lot of jobs before, all in black. Now, of course, I’m stuck”: so says Christian, 18 years old, who lives in an occupied house: “We didn’t receive the vouchers that were supposed to arrive from the city hall. There were days when my girlfriend and I looked at each other wondering, “What are we gonna eat tomorrow?”. Anna, a 60-year-old Ukrainian woman, echoes him. “I was working in a hotel, with a contract renewed month after month. Obviously, since March the hotel hasn’t worked, so neither have I. Since I don’t have a real contract, I have no support: I had to start using my savings”. These situations are common to many people in the neighbourhood, who have received little or nothing from the institutions: some have received the 600 euro bonus – which for rent, bills, expenses end very soon, even more if you have children – or the redundancy fund, with the delays that have united the whole country. Many saw nothing coming, to be workers without a contract or unemployed, and from one day to the next they were left without any source of income. Municipal spending vouchers were delivered partially and with very serious delays. The mantra repeated by commercials, institutional communications and social messages – “stay at home, everything will be fine” – shattered over the concrete experience of a country in difficulty and over problems that have lasted for years.
“Luckily there are volunteers who distribute the boxes,” says Anna, referring to those who immediately thought about how to move in the context of the pandemic so as not to leave anyone alone: the members of the neighbourhood Committee. Faced with the increasingly heavy institutional absence, in fact, here – as in other districts of the capital – the difference was made by the citizens, self-organized to put into practice forms of solidarity and self-determination important when not essential.
From the first week of lockdown, from the window on the sixth floor of the building in the centre of the square came music, words of support and appeals to the sense of community and the need to be active protagonists of one’s daily life. This was soon accompanied by material support, with the distribution of masks, disinfectant gel, gloves: “A lady brought us masks sewn by herself, a neighbor gave us a lot of amuchina and we distributed it. But we immediately realized that the need for food was predominant,” explains Vicari. So, every Tuesday and Saturday, in front of the Red Lab – the social centre on the ground floor of the former police headquarters – boxes of fruit, vegetables, pasta and bread were distributed for two months: products collected thanks to the support of private individuals, shopkeepers, farms and producers. 40 kg of oranges arrived from the farmers of Rosarno. “It is clear, however, that you don’t just live on this: there are people who don’t have the money to charge their mobile phones for distance learning for their children, or to repair the car to go to work.”
From the institutions nothing came, except requests for help: the volunteers were contacted to bring groceries to people in difficulty. “We went there, of course. But we have to think about a city with drones, police and military in all the streets, where there is no one to do the shopping for the elderly,” commented the members of the Committee, who alongside the necessary support for people – over a hundred families assisted – has always made a strong complaint about the institutional absence, even with targeted actions: “These needs cannot be discharged to the volunteers”, they said on 8 May, while symbolically unloading the empty boxes in front of the local Town Hall, and then participating, together with other groups of volunteers active in the capital, in the demonstration in Campidoglio square, which called for the distribution of shopping vouchers. “For months politicians have been announcing measures to support families: measures that simply do not exist,” they denounced, urging politicians to quickly find the means to act. Neither the local administration nor the city council gave concrete answers, and once again the neighbourhood had to organise itself.
“From the suburn to the suburn”. “Dalla borgata per la borgata”.
After all, self-organisation has for years been the basis for the management of the neighbourhood, which has never been the subject of institutional accountability. From this absence, a group of young people decided to take over the situation, initially with the recovery in full autonomy of the boiler room of a building of the Ater – Aziende Territoriali per l’Edilizia Residenziale – in a state of neglect for over twenty years: since 2016 it is open to the neighborhood as a popular gym. “In 2015 we occupied these spaces to denounce the absence of activity in the neighborhood,” explains Emanuele Agati, thirty years old, member of the Committee and boxing coach in the gym. “We pay particular attention to the needs of youth groups, even those who do not train spend the afternoon in the gym to see the others. There’s nothing else in the neighborhood”. In the meantime, two young people have become competitive boxers, finding their own value in sport. One of them is Amr Abdalla. Nineteen years old, he voluntarily participated in the distribution of the boxes: “I am very happy to help. I see a lot of people in trouble, and not only during quarantine. And I am proud of this activity”.
At the beginning of this year, the gym finally received the official assignment from the Ater, who recognized its value for the neighborhood. In the meantime, in recent years, actions have multiplied around sport: a self-managed after-school, attended by about forty children, workshops in schools focused on the recovery of the anti-fascist historical memory of the area, and the creation of the Committee to claim the rights of citizens, especially those, many, in housing emergency. Everything happens with a constant attention to the sense of community and aggregation: since 2016 every year the square is animated by a neighborhood party totally self-managed and accessible to all. Also this year it took place, despite the Covid-19: indeed, just this year it was felt even more necessary. And so, while after the acute phase of the health emergency, institutional policy insisted on economic recovery, the Quarticciolo found a way to be together. Because it is in a moment of crisis that a community aware, participated, sensitive to the needs of all responds: with masks and food, but also sociality and sharing. All sides of the same picture, made up of knowledge and care of the territory.
Serena: Serena Chiodo born in 1984 in Carate Brianza (MI). Cultural mediator, she got a master’s degree in Communication and Social Sciences focused on migration, than specialized in Communication and International Relations and Applied Social Sciences. She has been working for years in the field of migration and human rights protection, especially in advocacy, research and communication activities. She is a freelance journalist currently based in Rome, focussed on migration, human rights and social issues.
“Have your family book in hand,” shouts a policeman in front of the Telepizza on Abrantes Street. A patrol is monitoring that parents who go for their children’s meals maintain the separation recommended by health authorities. Outside, about 15 parents queue with the family book or a document that accredits the name of their children.
In front of a personal Telepizza table, they do what they can in the face of the avalanche of names of different nationals that they are told. Many are not on the charts and have to wait for second confirmations. These lists are the ones that the schools send about 11,500 students who have a reduced price in the school canteens for belonging to families that receive the Minimum Insertion Income (RMI). It is an agreement that the Community of Madrid reached with the companies Telepizza and Rodilla to supply the meals.
Rocío, a neighbor of the Carabanchel neighborhood and with a daughter in her care, who lives in the San Isidro area, arrives on her scooter at the Telepizza on Abrantes street at 12:30 p.m., time and place that has been assigned to her, at about 4Km from her home. In front of her are other fathers and mothers who the police are trying to organize. Two mothers have had to turn around because they were not on the lists, one of them is shouting “Shame, shame”.
The Community of Madrid is paying 5 euros for each meal to these companies, about 60,000 euros a day in total, however, the cost is being lower because since it began to distribute this Wednesday, only about 2,000 meals were collected by parents and about 3,000 this Friday. The main issue is the organisation of the lists in which not much of the children and the distance appear. A family member can only go individually from Monday to Friday between 12 am and 3 pm to collect the food at the assigned establishment. Many parents fear being fined and others see insufficient food being offered.
“I’m going to show you what the menu is today,” a mother in Abrantes complained this Friday. A small pizza, three Nuggets, and a drink, which would correspond to the school meals 3 offered there, but without salad. Rocío’s turn comes, she signs on a list and takes the food after almost an hour of waiting. When arriving home, the girl without much enthusiasm eats the first slice of pizza.
These meals that are received by the minors in the most vulnerable situation are made up of pizzas, hamburgers, salads, and nuggets for the children who receive it from Telepizza, and for the students who get their food from Rodilla to eat, at their main meal of the day, sandwiches, salad and snacks, accompanied by two pieces of fruit.
At the Telepizza de San Fermín in Usera, there is a municipal police car on patrol. The relatives who are queuing begin to say that “yesterday was impossible to collect the food because nobody was on the lists,” says a father of three children. Today they are and the people who have to leave without the meals are fewer.
Jury, a mother of two children, arrives at 2:30 p.m. to collect only her young son’s meal. She has been luckier than Rocío, she is only two subway stops from Telepizza and she has been given School Meal 3 with salad. When her son arrives home, around 3.30 pm, who is watching television, he says “he already wants to go back to school.”
Two short films Turk made in the first week of the UK lockdown when everybody was ordered to stay inside. The first film is based in a rural location while the second part focuses on London. It is the responses of his own friends and neighbours when they were asked the question ‘When did Covid-19 get real for you?’ . He decided to title it ‘Unprecedented’ as it was a buzz word at the time. He comments, ‘it was everywhere and pretty annoying to be honest! So I thought it fit an annoying and sad situation’.
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 August 31st to be included in September’s dossier pages.
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.
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.
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.
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? For them?
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.
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.
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.
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.