Photography in Isolation

Collaborating and Communicating through Images


by Ellen Wang | 18th August 2020


During the isolation period of the COVID-19 pandemic, a large number of artists had to adapt their practices to work in isolation. Albeit the limitations, the isolation provided opportunities to reflect on what can be done under such restrictions. Parameters can be used effectively to facilitate reconsideration and reinvention. In the case of photography, a medium that has already infiltrated the Internet, the new parameters made not only artists but also viewers take a fresh look at the photographs and other images as vehicles of exchanging ideas at a distance.

In an online lecture in April organised by the International Center of Photography in New York, writer, curator and photo-historian David Campany notes that as early as 1863, Oliver Wendell Holmes, an American physician who wrote perspectively on photography, may have predicted the world of social media:

‘...You see him at his desk or table with his books [...] you notice the lamp by which he reads – the objects lying about; you guess his condition, whether married or single; you divine his tastes, apart from that which he has in common with yourself. By-and-by, as he warms towards you, he sends you the picture of what lies next to his heart [...] And so these shadows have made him with his outer and his inner life a reality for you; and but for his voice, which you have never heard, you know him better than hundreds who call him by name, as they meet him year after year...’

Here, Holmes describes what he calls a ‘photographic intimacy’ between two people who have never met each other, showing an example of a person’s essence (or the representation of which) communicated through a portrait photograph, a peek of the sitter’s life, much like a picture sent through Mes