When the UK entered lockdown last year, photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten decided to record the experience of people trapped in their homes. The result is a dream-like look at self-isolation.
When the world stopped in March 2020, photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten picked up her camera and started walking the newly desolate streets around her home in London. Exploring at twilight, she was on a mission to document the strange and extraordinary world we found ourselves in.
“London felt very surreal. You didn’t hear aeroplanes anymore. The Tube had stopped. Everything ground to halt,” Fullerton-Batten tells Stylist. “Seeing people confined behind windows in their own space, not going out, like we were caged animals in a zoo. I felt I had to record this time.”
Fullerton-Batten began the project in the very early days of lockdown. She began finding models by reaching out to people in her local neighbourhood, sending out newsletters and putting letters through the doors of homes that looked interesting.
“The response was amazing, I think people wanted to be part of something that was quite momentous,” she says. But, it was also a long process. Social distancing rules meant Fullerton-Batten had to speak to the models from their gardens and send clothes to them through the post. “Some people were really scared about touching anything, so they would leave the clothes hanging outside for days because they didn’t know who had touched it. It was a huge procedure with each person.”
Fullerton-Battern is no stranger to ambitious photography projects. She got “hooked” on the medium at the age of 12 when her father gave her his old Minolta camera and went on to photograph projects around the world, including neglected children who found comfort in animals and historic-inspired scenes along the River Thames, winning a multitude of awards in the process.
However, in lockdown Fullerton-Batten didn’t have her usual crew of assistants, make-up artists and stylists. Instead, the shoots became a family affair as she brought her 12-year-old son along to help carry the equipment and later her other son and husband.
Inspired by artists like Edward Hopper, who was fascinated by solitude and isolation, and using her trademark high-production, cinematic aesthetics, Fullerton-Batten’s images track the dream-like progression of lockdown through isolated figures trapped behind rippling glass and big, busy families bunched up at their window panes.
There’s the ghostly visage of Marilyn Monroe lookalike, Suzie, who stares from her window like a waxwork on lockdown day 329. Mother of two, Zewdi, gazes through the condensation-filled front door of her block of flats with her children on lockdown day 57. Fullerton-Batten’s lens captures siblings Shem and Nora, confined between their four walls, looking like they are straight out of an Elizabethan portrait on day 111.
“Everybody experienced lockdown in a very different way,” says Fullerton-Batten. “And each of the scenes captured through these windows is a glimpse into a host of different lives.”
On day 51, we find Penelope looking out from her houseboat on west London’s Eel Pie Island, which had its own intense isolation. “You can only get to the island over a footbridge and there are no cars or roads,” explains Fullerton-Batten.
On day 53, singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor and her family squash themselves into their bay window. “I shot her while she was in the middle of one of her live kitchen discos,” says Fullerton-Batten. “As we were setting up the lights I could hear singing and dancing. You can just tell from the picture that her house is full of life.”
Bethan, who poses on day 40 with her hands painted to look like she is wearing blue medical gloves, is in the process of graduating early from her final year of medical school. “Her medical degree was rushed through so she could quickly join the NHS because they needed a lot of help,” says Fullerton-Batten. “The evening I photographed her, it was her first day working in the hospital.”
Despite capturing a very specific moment in time, there is an ageless quality to the images. And for good reason.
“I didn’t want to record this time in a negative way,” says Fullerton-Batten. “This is for people to reflect back on the positives that came out of lockdown: how people helped each other, how families reunited again, the NHS clapping that happened every Thursday. There was a sense of being all in this together and this captures that feeling for posterity.”
Looking Out From Within by Julia Fullerton-Batten is available to pre-order now.
Images: Julia Fullerton-Batten