One click of a finger and she captured happiness

Khrista Davis sheds light on the positive work of a student who went out of her way to make families smile amid the distressing COVID-19 pandemic

                                          Emma Garrard’s photography: on the left – The Jenner family and on the right – The Smith family.

On the doorstep of a semi-detached house on the outskirts of Ipswich, Emma Garrard is capturing history. 

The COVID-19 pandemic opened up the door to constant pessimism and heightened negative news. Positivity rarely makes an appearance, but when a glimpse of it comes along it can be a saving grace for someone like you and me. Garrard was exactly that. A reminder that there is life beyond the pandemic and still a reason to smile.

The twenty-year-old is a photography student from Ipswich, Suffolk. Garrard started her very own lockdown doorstep project and captured happiness for a moment in time, of friends and neighbours during the UK’s first lockdown. 

The idea first came to her when Britain went into national lockdown in April 2020. “I wanted to find a way to continue my photography practice whilst documenting the current circumstances. I came up with the idea of capturing this ‘moment in time’ and creating memories for people. I hope people will reflect on it in the future,” she says.

Garrard started the project on her own doorstep, the IP4 area of Ipswich and realised it was a winning way of building up her daily exercise regime in lockdown. She started with neighbours and friends, but word of mouth spread and soon she was picking up requests from strangers. 

And that meant she saw her subjects dressed up to the nines or barely wearing anything at all. Emma explains: “A lot of families came out either in their Pyjamas or mentioned that they got dressed specifically for the photo. This made me smile a lot.  

 “I would logistically plan my daily permitted walk and when I arrived at a house I would text the family and wait for them to come outside, I did not want to ring doorbells or knock-on doors as I know this would have increased the risk.”                                                                                                             

The project took a month in total and finished around late May last year. In total, Garrard took 110 doorstep portraits with more than 50 families taking part. She could have done even more, the requests kept coming in. “I had to politely decline as I wanted to comply with the rules of only capturing the portraits on my daily exercise,” she adds. 

So, who did she photograph? Pretty much everyone! From key workers to schoolteachers to families. One of them was Alex Jenner, a mother of two from Ipswich.  

“Lockdown was really difficult for everyone; we all had our worlds turn upside down in a way we had never imagined. My family and myself adapted to our new normal, playing board games, watching TV and lots of walks.

“Emma’s project was a major positive of the lockdown, I loved being captured with my family and I have now framed the photo as a memory of this very strange time. A highlight for me was being able to see the photographs of my neighbourhood on her social media, it made me feel closer to my friends, those who I had not seen in a long while. It was an absolute pleasure, Emma put a smile on my face on the day of the photograph being taken.” 

Many of the families asked for physical prints of their photographs, which Garrard provided along with a small fee and gave the profits to the NHS to contribute to buying equipment for two wards at Ipswich Hospital. Some of the families had made lockdown memory boxes and photos took the pride of place.

The appreciation didn’t stop there. Garrard was featured in the local Ipswich newspaper, made a radio appearance, and received a letter from a local MP praising her project. 

Looking back on that time, Garrard says: “The experience was very emotional for me, I was able to have short conversations with the families from a distance. There was one particular family where their child was extremely high risk, meaning that they had not left the house since the beginning of lockdown.

“I was the first person they had spoken to. It reminded me that it is so important to communicate, a small conversation can change everything and to know that I provided a sense of normality to many families was so touching. It definitely helped me mentally as well and I believe it improved my positive approach to what I was doing.” 

Garrard has high aspirations for her lockdown doorstep project in the future and would hope that it would be a historical memory of this very strange time. 

“I would like people to look back on it in remembrance of us all being told to “stay at home” and the photos exactly replicate that message. 

“In a strange way I hope that the photos will be looked at through a historical viewpoint, of the range of houses and the outfits in the 21st century which are captured through the images,” she says.

Khrista Davis

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