I am a photographer, filmmaker and writer based in Birmingham in the UK. This is my chronicle of the modern plague year(s), beginning in March 2020 with the start of the coronavirus epidemic in the UK.
A pile of limbs litter the floor of the wedding dress shop on the square, recently reopened after the final business restrictions were lifted a month ago today, allowing weddings to resume as they were in the days before the pandemic. In the window, a teenage boy fondles the naked plastic breast of a mannequin he and his mother are in the process of dressing for a window display.
Walking south along the canal, I pass a narrowboat heading north back to the city. The people on board are dressed in smart clothes and sat at tables, enjoying an intimate wedding reception cruise. It used to be a common sight on Saturdays in summer, but I haven’t seen a tour boat in nearly two years. I can’t help but smile.
The towpath is lined with foxgloves, campion, honeysuckle and columbine, all grown wild and tall in the midsummer sun, yet to be cut back from the water’s edge by the Canal and River Trust. I secretly hope they’ve forgotten this year and that the overgrown look is here to stay.
Sat in the wooden teahouse in the Japanese garden at the Botanical Gardens with the wind chimes sounding and the rain falling, Ed comments: “It’s like we’re in one of those Japanese art house films where everyone is miserable but nothing really happens”.
Just before 4pm I arrive at the swimming pool to discover that the university has painted new markings beneath the cloisters and up the steps to the front door in advance of the new academic year. For more than 100m, row upon row of neat white circles enclosing tiny feet and the words “stand here” have been stamped on the ground to help organise the queueing system before the students return. Six months into the pandemic, there are still moments that stop me in my tracks and make me feel like I’m living in a parallel universe or that I’ve fallen into the pages of a science fiction novel, and this is one of them.
On my way home, I cut across a silent campus for the first time since March following the freshly painted one way system that’s been put down for freshers’ week and beyond. A group of school boys from the school over the road are stood outside the law faculty building bouncing freshly fallen conkers and acorns off the concrete, blazers and rucksacks in a pile beside them, but there’s nobody else around. Staff House sits empty, the Friday Beers tradition abandoned for the foreseeable future.
Stepping down onto the canal, I glue my eyes to the railings in search of late season blackberries, the low golden light flickering through the metal slats and hedgerows as I head home.