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 Mini Miller standing by their doorway. In May 2020, Mini was interviewed by photographer Bri Hammond about their experience of public housing and COVID-19 lockdowns. Mini reflected:
'I've been living here since 2016, so four years this year. I'm an artist and a rapper, and I do an event called High Rising Hip-Hop with the Collingwood Neighbourhood House down at the underground car park. I guess I saw a gap with a lot of hip-hop and open mic stuff, there was a place nearby but it was really white and just dudes. People would assume that I was just there to watch, I'd be queuing for ages and I'd just be pushed out of the way, and the one time I did get to go up people would just be real sleazy to me. There's so many amazing artists that I know that live on the estate, and so many amazing programs for young fellas to do hip-hop around here and I just thought it'd be cool to have something that bridged that gap. I feel like a lot of other spaces are really competitive and quite negative as well, there can be a lot of dissing culture and stuff like that. I heard about what a friend of mine was doing over in Footscray with positive rap battles and I thought that'd be a cool thing to incorporate. High Rising Hip-Hop is a space where people can mess up and practice doing freestyling and practice some of the stuff they might be writing or working on as well as come together with more established artists and adult MCs and perform together and make those connections so they can start getting paid gigs.
Isolation has been up and down for me. I really like my weekly structure so losing that has been the hardest thing. I have been visiting some elders to take them their food, just dropping it off on their doorstep. It's meant I've been able to visit them kind of regularly from afar and that's kind of kept me connected to community.'
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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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