‘Underlying’ is a photographic project examining my personal reality as a designated ‘vulnerable’ person during the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Born with a heart condition, that led to the formation of an even graver heart condition, I have always carried a deep awareness of my own mortality, one that I have sought to conceal from the people around me by projecting an illusion of health and vitality.
However, with the outbreak of COVID-19 came an unending wave of news articles describing how those most affected are the elderly and those with underlying conditions. The subliminal message seemed to be “don’t worry, death is coming for them, not you. For people who were dying anyway”. The collective sigh of relief is palpable with every caveated headline.
But what if ‘you’ are ‘them’?What may have been a reassurance to many, forced me to confront the physical vulnerability I’ve spent my whole life trying to hide. The idea that a life could coldly be considered expendable in the name of “The Greater Good’ or a type of ‘Herd Immunity’ – a life valued in economic terms with pound signs and percentages in GDP.
It provoked me to question why I had always insisted on trying to repress my vulnerability; a culture of toxic masculinity, a learned response to danger, a teenage notion of invincibility? The work also stems from a desire to address the reality behind the statistics: what a vulnerable person really looks like. Not sickly, not dying. Maybe even young and fit.
This project represents a type of admission, a forced coming-out to friends and family and perhaps even myself, that my body contains an unspoken fragility.
Through self-portraiture a performance is presented, a barrier broken down. Purely in the act of reversing the camera, I have exposed an instinctual display of masculinity and even allowed opportunity to discard it in place of a more truthful projection of my internal and external state. I sought to find the line between the contrived and the authentic; already blurred by the impalpable circumstances.
Despite attempts to maintain a bubble of normalcy – brushing my teeth, preparing meals, walking the dog – this was regularly pierced by the stinging reality of the outside world; the worried phone calls, text messages and grim cyclical headlines. I included screen shots of my conversations especially those with my mother to juxtapose the beauty of my surroundings with my internal and physical reality.
It felt natural to document my surroundings – the minutiae and mundanity of everyday life under lockdown. I spent the duration of the quarantine unintentionally stranded in a holiday villa in the south of Spain, a location that seemed comically out-of-step with the apocalyptic news cycle.
In any other scenario I would have considered it paradise, but in the climate of fear the looming palms and crashing waves took on a new meaning – the garden abounding with exotic plants took on threatening forms; like strange animals discovered at the bottom of the ocean or deep in the jungle, they had metamorphosed into foreign bodies patrolling our domesticated space. Our villa was both a cell and a castle, protecting me from the outside reality as well as trapping me in with my own thoughts.
It’s a truth long recognised in art that the more personal you get, the more universal it becomes. In this way, I hope this project offers a personal perspective from one of the millions of designated vulnerable people, reflecting views of what “illness” truly looks like from the inside and outside.