This Photo Book Captures Lockdown Lifting in London

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SweeteensPhotography by Laura Jane Coulson

Shot in May last year – as the UK’s first lockdown began to ease – photographer Laura Jane Coulson’s new book Sweeteens is a love letter to freedom, youth and London’s green spaces

Last May, a quietly hopeful mood seemed to wash over London: restrictions were easing for the first time after a spring spent anxiously indoors, and an unseasonable heatwave brought sunshine and scorching temperatures to the capital. With roads still pleasantly devoid of traffic, filled instead with a flurry of new cyclists, Londoners eagerly headed out into the strangely calm city, communing in its green spaces with friends and family once more after months spent apart.

This is the London captured in photographer Laura Jane Coulson’s new book, Sweeteens, which documents groups of friends, and in particular young people, in parks across the capital during this unique time. “I wasn’t taking photos throughout the whole of the first lockdown,” Coulson tells AnOther. “I just felt, as everyone did, really confused, low, and just a bit miserable. [When restrictions began to lift] I went out to the park and it was like, ‘Oh my God, this feels exciting again. This feels like a moment.’ I instantly got excited that people looked happy and were meeting up.”

Struck by the simplicity and joy of these social scenes, and the ephemerality of the moment, Coulson called up friend and street casting director of PEOPLE-FILE, Gabrielle Lawrence, inviting her to collaborate on a photo story. “I was the first one down there at whatever time,” remembers Coulson. “For the next few weeks, we went around all the parks and met people, talked to people, shot people. I thought about it as a bit of a timestamp because it was such a specific moment … At the time I didn’t really know what it was going to be or why I was doing it. I was just excited to shoot and meet people again.”

The resulting images brought together in Sweeteens form something of a love letter to freedom, youth and London’s green spaces – which have become vital places of escape for so many since the pandemic first took hold. In the book’s sun-soaked pages, shot in Coulson’s signature dreamy, colour-saturated style, friends lie back in the grass, pose alongside bicycles, and smile shyly at the camera. “It was great, because everyone was so up for talking to us,” says Coulson. “There were some quieter groups, there were some who were more animated … We weren’t looking for anything specifically. I think we were just looking for that nice kind of positive energy.” 

With the focus of the book on London’s teenagers and young people, Coulson has decided to donate net proceeds of Sweeteens to children’s mental health charity, YoungMinds. “[The pandemic has] affected everyone’s mental health,” she says. “And I think on a personal level, it really made me dig a lot deeper into my own head space. I think it’s really great that charity like YoungMinds is able to give young people the tools to have those kinds of conversations, it’s just so important. I wish I had those resources when I was growing up.”

Of her hopes for Sweeteens, Coulson says: “I would love it to sell out so I can give all of the money to YoungMinds! I also hope all of the people in the book like it.” And, looking forward to the future, she adds, “There’s been so many horrible negatives from this past year, there’s got to be something on the other side … I’m really excited and positive about what’s next.” 

Sweeteens is designed by Arpa Studio and is stocked exclusively at Claire de Rouen