A few weeks into lockdown, VICE UK put a call out to some of our favourite photographers. We wanted submissions for photo essays that reflect the time we're living in – but interesting, imaginative projects, not just "I'm stuck inside, here are some pictures of my cheese-plant".
Luckily, because the photographers we reached out to are all interesting and imaginative people, we got a ton of great ideas back, which we've whittled down to ten final projects. We're running one every week for ten weeks, to be followed by an exhibition you can stage in your very own home (details on that to come).
This project looks at my neighbourhood of Poplar, east London through the lens of capitalism and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Capitalism is part of the overriding hegemony of our country, and looks to be prioritised at all costs, even in times of crisis. Shops, bars and restaurants were released from lockdown sooner than most students could return to school or university, and faster than many SAGE scientists deemed appropriate.
Poplar is in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, which has the highest level of child poverty in the UK, at 31 percent. This is despite the area being looked down upon by the gleaming towers of Canary Wharf, which house the headquarters of banks including JP Morgan, Barclays and HSBC. According to the World Bank, COVID-19 will hit the poor hardest.
Also local to the area is Bromley-By-Bow’s Amazon warehouse. In 2017, the company’s pre-tax profits increased to £72 million, but Amazon paid only £1.7 million in tax to the UK government. The company is also regularly accused of mistreating its warehouse staff, with employees telling of gruelling working conditions.
As those struggling financially have come under pressure to return to work, I’ve been documenting commuters, while fellow photographer Jorge Luis Dieguez has chronicled areas of affluent west London during the same period, as a dichotomy showing the impact of COVID-19 on people of different socio-economic backgrounds.
Interestingly, both areas contain residential buildings designed by Erno Goldfinger - Balfron Tower in the east and Trellick Tower in the west. Originally built for the London County Council, the brutalist Balfron Tower is currently being converted into expensive luxury flats.
Capitalism is about putting a price tag on everything - the clothes we wear, the healthcare we receive, the ground beneath our feet and where we call our home. The once in a century disruption caused by this virus gives us a rare chance to truly look at society and recalibrate our priorities, but will we take it?
See the rest of the project below: