Self-Portraits From Self-Isolation: Capturing Life in Lockdown

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Danny Bowien, New YorkCourtesy of This Immediate Life

Arts collective This Immediate Life invited people from around the world to submit a self-portrait to document this historic – if harrowing – moment

This article is published as part of our #CultureIsNotCancelled campaign:

While the creative industries have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic (one Creative Industries Federation survey reported that just 50 per cent of creative organisations believe they can survive beyond June), this time – now so ubiquitously described as “unprecedented” – has seen an explosion of creativity. From people making new works of film, photography, art and more, to those utilising their talents to help alleviate the suffering of those worst affected by the crisis, the last couple of months have been a testament to the power of the arts as a force for change.

One project to have emerged in response to the pandemic is This Immediate Life (TIL), an art collective aimed at encouraging people to remain creative in lockdown. Initiated by Kelsey Falter (a multimedia and conceptual artist), Bowie Lewandowski (a filmmaker), Mat+Kat (a creative direction/photography duo) and Tansy Kaschak (a journalist, artist and activist), the collective have invited people to submit a self-portrait from self-isolation and to tell them about their experience of the pandemic, serving not only to document this historical – if harrowing – moment, but to foster a sense of community in what is, by its nature, an isolating time.

“This project started when Bowie and Kelsey were concerned about the negative and looming press coverage and the effect of distancing on friends – it was just all too dark,” says Kaschak over email. “We wanted to create something positive, uplifting, and collaborative. So we started interviewing people and made a short film called 6 Feet Apart. We posted the interview to our Instagram, and Mat+Kat reached out about collaborating.”

“We decided to create Instructables, which are instructions on how people could create together, while still being separate,” she continues. “We then reached out to a handful of friends to begin documenting. Tansy stepped in to help produce the project, and it began to grow. We are still accepting submissions at – the instructions are published on the TIL website.”

In the week after it launched, TIL received over 100 submissions, from a wide range of professions and indeed places, with people sending self-portraits from around the US, Europe and Asia. As well as the actual portraits, it’s the responses to the questionnaire, which the collective additionally ask people to fill out, that have been particularly poignant. “Some of [them] have been particularly touching or funny and have given us the feeling that there is much more commonality around the world than one might expect. Community agents like Mission Chinese’s Danny Bowien, an award winning chef and restaurateur in Chinatown and Brooklyn, have submitted amidst the shutdown of restaurants – claiming this time of rest has allowed him more time with his partner Sara Hiromi.”

Explore the TIL website here.