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 Richmond housing estate Stephen Duff peering from his front window. In May 2020, Stephen was interviewed by photographer Bri Hammond about his experience of public housing and COVID-19 lockdowns. Stephen reflected:
'I've got a lived experience with mental health. I got diagnosed close to 20 years ago, I was on medication for 10 years, and have been off it for about 10 now. So I'm always trying to learn ways to help identify and manage my stuff. When I was on medication I wasn't really looking at my mental health, I was just taking my medication. Now I live with it, rather than in it. Daily reflections and practising mindfulness is really helpful. Being grateful and humble for what I've actually got. My diagnosis was depression, anxiety and agoraphobia, but it's systemic from post-traumatic stress from when I was little. But I feel pretty good now! I do school crossings for the City of Yarra. I've been doing that for just over two years. I've been living in this place for close to 10 years now.
Isolation has been OK. My job as Crossings Supervisor was put on hold and then we weren't sure if we were going back, so I think that three week period there I was starting to go a bit stir crazy towards the end because I wasn't sure if I had a job to go back to. My gym had closed down so I wasn't able to go, that was part of my regular routine, and mental health.
Actually for me - it might sound weird - but it's actually helped me that society has slowed down. I can get caught up with keeping up with the pace of society, so everything quietening down has actually helped me and enforced my journey about where I'd like to go with my mental health.'
In December 2020, Stephen reflected further on his experience of COVID-19 lockdowns:
'I was fortunate enough to still have my job as a School Crossing Supervisor, but it was a bit touch and go there for a while. Through my Neighbourhood House, I was able to apply for funding from my local council (City of Yarra) for a live streaming music event at The Factory in Richmond, April/May 2020. The event went well, but we could only have roughly 10 people there due to restrictions, with only one guest, which was not the same and very sad Still, from my perspective, I had a project to engage with, which was important for me, and nice to see some other people on the night.
Fortunately again, I was able to be part of the food security program on the Richmond Housing Estate. This was not only a lifeline for myself, the other volunteers and staff, but also for the many individuals we helped during this extremely challenging time, especially during the harsh COVID-19 Stage 4 restrictions.
Having a lived experience around mental health issues, I realised that my foundation that I have been working on for over 10 years has held me in good stead to deal with this pandemic. It was nice, from my perspective, for the my world to slow down. It kept life simple for me...less outside noise and definitely less chaos!
I have found that with restrictions lifting my challenge moving forward, is to understand the toxicity, volatility and chaos of my surrounding current environment and to find the peace and harmony l found during COVID-19 during 2020. Finding the courage and wisdom to implement the serenity l found during lockdown, truly is my challenge moving forward...hopefully we all can, as a community, society and ever changing world. Hopefully we all look after one another a little better from this stage forward.'
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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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