Reflections on the Covid-19 pandemic, through a single roll of film – by Pierre-Alix Favillier

As we finally emerge from one of the most difficult period of our recent lives, I finally got the single roll of film that I managed to shoot in those 3 months processed and what I saw genuinely shocked me.

The following pictures were all shot on a single roll of fuji pro 400h, with a Rollei 35s, on a single day in the middle of the lockdown period around Kew and Richmond, just outside of London.

I remember going out that morning for my one period of allowed exercise of the day, popping down to Richmond to post a letter. I remember thinking that I had to document this one way or another, and I’m glad I did.

As I look back through some of these shots, I remember the feeling of walking around in a ghost town. The only shop that was open at the time was the post office, and even then everyone had to queue down an alleyway, almost hiding from the empty main street as if it was a crime to be outside, enjoying some of the sunniest weather the UK had recently experienced… almost a snub.

Ghost town

Some of us have sadly lost family members, jobs, income and opportunities, others have had their livelihoods changed for the foreseeable future. Some have enjoyed being constantly at home, some have hated it… As we start to reflect on what has happened over the previous 3 months, I wanted to document and illustrate this emptiness and how life as we used to know it effectively stopped to fight this virus.

The buses
The buses

We all played our part, but sadly there will be few heroes. The hard fights were fought in the confines of hospital wards, in laboratories, in offices, figuring out logistics, food supplies, processes and guidelines. There was no physical destruction, little emotion, no real joy at the end. As a photographer, I initially found it very difficult to accept that I wouldn’t be able to capture at least some of the evidence, especially after a prolonged period of demonstrations and the intense visual stimulation associated with Brexit, Trump and the various elections of the last few years.

For me, a little bit like these pictures show, I feel like we all lost a little bit of our soul in those 3 months and I hope that they will act as a reminder of how it was then, and push us to make the most of whatever comes next… however different it may be from the past. I’ve now realised even more what it means to be human, how I’ve missed my family, shaking a hand, smiling at someone or taking a picture. Instead it was all about walking away from people, trying to prevent yourself from sneezing and constantly wondering if I could have touched something I shouldn’t have.

“We need your help now more than ever if we are to survive…”
No gazing
Empty boats; no planes, bicycles, or pedestrians
the barbershop
The  rainbow…

Individually, these pictures mean very little but as a body, they tell a story. I feel like I now have a little time capsule, in the form of a single strip of negatives. I will probably never scan these again, but I will be able, one day, to show the next generation physical evidence of how it was in the spring of 2020…

You can see more of my work on instagram. (@cloud_surfer14)

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7 thoughts on “Reflections on the Covid-19 pandemic, through a single roll of film – by Pierre-Alix Favillier”

    1. thanks Ian, when I scanned those negs I just felt like I had to write something about them. I’m glad I did.

  1. Kodachromeguy

    “sadly there will be few heroes. “. I understand what you meant. The medical professionals will definitely be hidden heroes in this long fight. But we definitely had villains, including the illegitimate fraud in the White House and the similar vile character in Brazil.

    1. I think there are plenty of other venues to discuss this aspect of the pandemic. for me whats important is the sociological aspects and the way people changed the way they behaved and lived. History will judge them, but that does not mean people will remember the details and the way life changed. thats the aspect I wanted to document here.

  2. The photographs of empty streets and the long queues document a shared social history, regardless of what country we live in. The Fuji Pro 400H, a film I have yet to use, adds a “historic” feel to the images.

    The tone of your post sounds almost celebratory. I think your excitement over “emerging” is premature. Nothing has changed except the government’s willingness to play “Russian roulette” with public health.

    As someone who has lost a family member to COVID-19, I state emphatically that the virus does not care that governments have chosen to lift restrictions. The virus and the risk of infection and spread still exists in the same way it did before. I will continue to treat everyone I see while out on an afternoon walk as a hostile death carrier.

    It’s only been a week since the New Jersey governor eased restrictions and already the young and stupid are ignoring the risk, and our spread has picked up, and our numbers are spiking.

    1. Khurt,

      firstly thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Part of the reason that I wrote this post is that I wanted to get some of my feelings out and I think the responses that I’ve had so far show that I’m not the only one. for your reference, I’ve lost an extended member of my family as well as well as job opportunity I had been working hard to get for a while, so I feel that I’ve suffered my fair share from Covid as well…

      Concerning the tone of my prose, I think you should re-read it once more. It is in no way celebratory, in fact I make a point of highlighting that because of the nature of the pandemic, there will be no celebrations. I would go even further by saying that all emotions, whether they were of joy or sorrow had to be muted during this pandemic. This is very hard to accept for the us humans, especially if you are mourning the passing of someone close, as I’m sure you’ve unfortunately experienced yourself.

      In the UK, we’ve lived through this pandemic in a way that’s been maybe slightly different than in the states. This is for 2 reasons. Firstly geographic (the UK is much smaller than the US) , and secondly because the UK does not have a federal system where governors have a much larger say than the central government (you could argue that is a good thing but I will not pass judgement, this is not the point of my post) . As a result, we all went into hard lockdown together and we are all coming out together. What I’ve tried to illustrate here is not the pandemic from A to Z, but the period of hard lockdown that we have experienced here in the UK. I am fully aware that this pandemic is not over and will continue to affect us all, wherever we are in the world for the forceable future.

      I fully agree with your point of view regarding the future prospect of infection, everyone has to continue to act responsibly in order for us to overcome this awful disease. Ultimately, victory will probably only come in the form of a vaccine… but until then, everyone has to play their part.
      In any case, thank you for your response, I appreciate it!

      (just as a side note, if and when you try Fuji, I recommend that you overexpose it by at least +1/2 stops. It’s also great for cool colored areas with nice blue and green tones)

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