JJ Waller tells us about his book project: Lockdown – Informal Portraits of This Time

Hi JJ – Can you tell us a bit about the project you have been working on during lockdown and how the ideas behind it came about?

The idea for the project came to me when first hearing about the impending lockdown, I was a few days into photographing for a new book project JJ Waller’s Sussex Coast To Coast.

I sent out a press release to the online Brighton and Hove News that evening. Within 12 hours I had about four invitations to go and photograph people who were already isolating.

The idea of making portraits through windows is a simple one, and that was key to the project’s appeal. People could very easily grasp the idea that a portrait would be an important way to document their family at a unique moment in history.


Where did you go to take the photos – was there a particular reason why you chose these places?

As I posted images from the sessions on social media it attracted more and more respondents. Initially all the sessions were local to the Brighton area. As a photographer I have a long association with St Leonards and a few people there who were enjoying the images asked me to consider doing some in that town. I did and such was the demand I went every Thursday for seven weeks. Another friend suggested doing some portraits in her village of Firle. I saw this as an opportunity to add a counterbalance to the urban environment pictures which effectively it was.


We’ve heard that legendary documentary photographer and filmmaker, Martin Parr, became involved in your project. Can you tell us a bit about Martin’s involvement?

The involvement of Martin Parr is very much rooted in social media. I had noticed he was following the work on Instagram. When Lockdown was coming to an end I emailed him and asked his advice, he suggested I do a book. I bit the bullet and asked him if he would be involved in some other way. Amazingly he offered to help with the editing. I sent him a batch of images and he came back with a superb selection. Without exception, I had no issues with his choices.


What do you think we can learn from the project?

My point about social media accessibility is important. As artists, we generally welcome feedback to our work. It follows that sometimes also getting in touch with those that inspire us can be a good thing. From time to time I get emails from students and members of the public with feedback / questions to which I always reply promptly.


How do you think the lockdown experience has influenced your work and will influence your future projects?

This body of work has influenced me in so many ways, not least in reinforcing my belief in the arts as a catalyst for effecting positive human emotion.

Two weeks ago I was invited to make a series of portraits for the excellent Kit Tarka Foundation.  That series of ten family portraits has developed the seed of a new idea. For me, ideas are more likely to develop from a working situation than from a vacuum of creative inactivity. I have learnt the importance of taking risks, following intuition and being prepared to fail.

On this occasion, the timing and content of the work hit the zeitgeist of a collective experience. The media has an insatiable appetite for anything to do with COVID-19 and I had work that interested them – but it is important to try to judge when to say no as well as yes.

JJ Waller’s Lockdown. Informal Portraits of This Time is available from City Books and Waterstones  £11.99 or direct from the Artist  @ www.jjwaller.com