This digital photograph depicts Melbourne-based photographer Julie Ewing taking a photo of Fairfield residents, mother Angela Velissaris and daughter Vicki Velissaris, at their home in Northcote during the State of Victoria's first COVID-19 lockdowns. Julie is taking photos from a safe distance using a long camera lens, in line with the Victorian Government's social distancing requirements that were in place at the time.
This behind-the-scenes photograph was taken by Northcote resident Myra Holmes while photographer Julie Ewing was working on her 'Across the Fence' photographic series. This series was initiated by Julie as a 'community-spirited goodwill project' in response to the first COVID-19 lockdowns in Victoria that began in March 2020. As households were ordered to 'stay at home' and social distancing rules came into effect, Julie saw an opportunity to document this unique time in history by photographing her friends and neighbours from a safe distance, across their front fences. She offered these photoshoots for free, gifted families with copies of the digital photographs and shared image galleries via a Facebook group to generate positivity and community discussion. 'It's FUN, it's FREE and it FOLLOWS the social distancing rules', advertised Julie on her Facebook group in April 2020, 'this is a documentary style portrait of life under lockdown; a footprint in our history of an unprecedented time.'
As community interest in the project grew, Julie received requests to photograph households right across the Darebin region, including the suburbs of Northcote, Fairfield, Thornbury and Preston. 'Everyone jumped on board', recalls Julie: 'I think the novelty of the lockdown situation was still new, the weather was still warm, and it was Autumn and very pretty outdoors.' Over a period of six weeks, Julie photographed 120 households and then expanded her project to include 60 retail and hospitality businesses. The resulting series of photographs documents a wide range of lived experiences under COVID-19 lockdown - from families and housemates gardening or playing music in their front lawns, to small shopfronts pivoting their businesses to offer socially-distanced shopping or take-away food.
Julie also photographed a number of momentous occasions, including an intimate wedding held on a couple's front lawn, and an Anzac Day dawn service. 'Local residents and neighbours loved these photo sessions', recalls Julie, 'the fun and escapism it provided the neighbourhood was overwhelming.'
Reflecting on the personal experience of producing Across the Fence, Julie recalls that the project 'provided a purpose for me every day; I would head out daily and do the sessions in the afternoon, and it enabled me to socialise and stay connected to my community.' This was particularly important for Julie in light of the challenges that COVID-19 had brought to her own life. After 27 years running her small photography business, LifeWorks Photography, and specialising in family, newborn and maternity photography, the global pandemic posed an immediate threat to Julie's income, career and livelihood: 'The challenges were many', reflected Julie in August 2020, 'I have had jobs in between the lockdowns, but I have also had to postpone or cancel many client jobs, and it feels like I've been practically closed for half a year now.' Despite these challenges, Julie was humbled by the support that her local community showed to her as she photographed friends, neighbours and complete strangers: 'I found that people were extraordinarily generous', she reflects, 'I was gifted home-made cakes, biscuits, jams, preserves, fruit and many bottles of wine. And friends who knew I was unable to work gifted cash donations for my time, which was embarrassing at first, but made me realise how much they valued their photographs and how these photos made them feel.'
As a historic documentation of COVID-19 lockdowns in Melbourne, Julie is quick to point out that her Across the Fence series was conducted during the first lockdown, which she believes had a markedly different mood to subsequent lockdowns: 'It was the perfect time for such a project. It was a new and unique moment in history, and everyone thought the virus would go away soon. So people were embracing time together with their family, creating and making things, cooking, growing vegetables and tending gardens. We all felt like we could beat this virus. If I were to do another photoshoot during the second wave of lockdowns, I feel I would have a completely different story to tell in pictures and emotions. The mood would be more sombre, with tensions higher and faces and smiles hidden behind masks. These photos, however, speak of a time when people were perhaps a bit more optimistic and even joyful, despite the significant hardships that many were encountering.'
This is one of 24 images from Julie Ewing's Across the Fence series that were acquired into Museum Victoria's Collecting the Curve Collection. These photographs provide a lasting reminder of how neighbourhoods and households in Melbourne were impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic, as well as the unique ways through which individuals and communities adapted their lives and found new routines, traditions and ways of supporting one another.
Digital TIFF file
Donation from Julie Ewing
Collected as part of the Museum In My Neighbourhood project with support from the Office of Suburban Development.
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