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 Joshua Tavares sitting in his bedroom during the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2020, Joshua was interviewed by photographer Bri Hammond about his experience of public housing and COVID-19 lockdowns. Joshua reflected:
'I've been living in this unit for about 20 years on and off. I was my Dad's primary carer here before he passed away. I grew up on the estate, from when I was about 14, so 22 years. I turn 36 in June.
I run the Collingwood Underground Roller Disco, which is an all-inclusive event in the underground car park on the estate. I'm also working on a new event to celebrate Tavares Lane, which was named after my late-father Antonio Tavares. It's the first street to be named after someone of colour, the first non-colonial name and the first name of someone from public housing, which is cool.
I've found isolation a bit difficult. I'm a professional musician, a singer, and all of my events have been cancelled. It's been sort of nice to have a break from gigs, but I guess the break without anything else to do is like "oh ok, we're all in forced lockdown". I guess we're pretty lucky to be in Australia. I've been watching a lot of Netflix, playing video games. I have been working a little bit. I have been seeing some friends because we found it ridiculous that you can have a partner over but not a friend? So everyone who's single is doomed to live this life of solitude? Isolation is the biggest killer of anyone, but now we're saying it's good for you to isolate? Crazy. Crazy!'
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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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