This digital photograph was taken by Melbourne-based photographer Bri Hammond as part of her photographic series, 'Isolation Stories - Public Housing.' This series was produced in May 2020, in between lockdowns, and documents the experiences of residents living in the Collingwood and Richmond public housing estates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Depicted in this image is resident of the Collingwood housing estate Adamah Bøge-Nielsen standing by his doorway. In May 2020, Adamah was interviewed by photographer Bri Hammond about his experience of public housing and COVID-19 lockdowns. Adamah reflected:
'I live here with my ex. He's still my best mate, he was my first love too. I'm the youngest of five kids and I grew up on a 40,000 acre property in Cunnamulla. I didn't have a lot of time to explore who I was or what I loved so much growing up. But I don't regret it because I got the knowledge of the land of Australia and animals. When I was 17, I moved to Sydney and I was sort of thrown in the deep end. I'm 28 now and I've probably been homeless about ten times. I'm not a bad housemate or anything, it was just certain unfortunate circumstances. I had two suicide attempts at 19 and 21.
This apartment is my first place to call my own. I guess people think the homeless need a bed or an actual room, but in my experience people just need a safe place to rest their head, that's why I've taken in about 80 people to stay here in the 2 years that I have been living here.
Coronavirus has taught us that placing so much value outside the body in material things isn't good. When people are chasing all their own wants and their needs, they then forget to aid the needs of others, needs such as medical, home, food. Once people stop chasing money so much they'll do what they really love and what brings them happiness, creativity and passion.
I think the media is such a strong force. It can be used to tell the truth but also incite fear. It's a real feeling but it's not a real thing, because your fear is usually for the future and the future hasn't happened yet.'
In December 2020, Adamah reflected again on the COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of his local community and neighbourhood during this challenging time. During lockdown he participated in a range of programs offered by his local Collingwood Neighbourhood House, including 'Art in Isolation', '70s Dance' and 'Lifting Spirits Food Security Program.' 'My local community were vital to my mental health', he reflected, 'the support activities and general feeling of hope were key to maintaining a positive focus.'
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This photograph is one of 13 images that were acquired into Museums Victoria's Collecting the Curve Collection as part of the Museums in My Neighbourhood Project, with support from the Office of Suburban Development. These photographs offer a rare glimpse into life in public housing during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Melbourne, and provide a lasting reminder of the hardships, challenges, hopes, strengths and achievements of residents during this time.
Many public housing residents in the State of Victoria experienced extreme hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly during the Victorian Government's hard and immediate lockdown of nine public housing estates in Melbourne's inner-north in July 2020. Yet, through adversity and hardship, public housing residents also experienced community and neighborhood support, solidarity through grassroots networking, and participation in a range of activities such as food bank programs and arts initiatives. This photographic series shines a light on the community activities of the Belgium Avenue and Collingwood Neighbourhood Houses, and their vital role in providing food, arts, gardening, music and mental health support to residents during the early stages of COVID-19 lockdowns. Although these photographs represent a particular period of time, May 2020, Museums Victoria is continuing to explore ways to document the subsequent experiences of public housing residents in Victoria, including the impact of the hard lockdown of the Flemington and North Melbourne towers in July 2020.
These 13 photographs also provide an example of the important role that artists played in documenting and creatively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time these photographs were taken, photographer Bri Hammond was a lifestyle and commercial photographer, but all of her client work was immediately cancelled with the arrival of COVID-19, so she instead decided to focus her energies on documenting events as they unfolded: 'I knew that the pandemic was going to be a point of historical significance and I thought it was important to document it in some way,' she reflected in December 2020: 'I saw countless articles and social media posts of people getting into baking and other new hobbies, or complaining about lockdown when they had a big beautiful house, an income, and everything they needed. I wanted to share a different side of the lockdown story, one that's not oozing with privilege and comfort.'
With support from Yarra City Council, Bri was welcomed by Belgium Avenue and Collingwood Neighborhood Houses to meet and photograph individuals in their homes. She reflected in late 2020: 'I think that it's important to share the stories from the incredible individuals that live in public housing, to erase the stereotypes and stigmas that exist and lead to this unfair treatment. for me it was mostly about sharing these voices that are so often underrepresented in the media, to put names and faces to the people who live in public housing. I wanted to share the positive and important work that the Belgium Avenue and Collingwood Neighbourhood houses generously do to support the community, especially in hard times like 2020.'
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