Ruth Corney, an award-winning photographer from Highgate, North London, has embarked on a new project that captures the unique lockdown experiences of Camden residents.

The collection serves as the basis of Ms Corney and editor Dan Carrier’s photo book Two Metres, which documents experiences of quarantine through the lens of local residents, food banks, charities, community centres, and co-ops.

The project was inspired by Brookfield School’s caretaker, Derek Hayden, who was preparing meals for vulnerable people in the local community.

“It started as I was delivering food from Brookfield School and I was just so impressed by the caretaker—he’s been cooking for everyone and looking after vulnerable people,” Ms Corney said. “Inspired by his story, I wanted to reach out and I wanted to put across a sense of how these people were dealing with everything.”

North London Photographer Documents Lockdown Experiences to Honour Camden's Community Spirit
Brookfield School site manager Derek Hayden inspired the Two Metres project. Photo: Ruth Corney

Riding in the Camden New Journal’s food aid van, Ms Corney and Mr Carrier travelled across the borough and delivered emergency parcels to those in need during the height of the pandemic. The Londoners featured in Two Metres were people the pair randomly encountered on their route. 

Ms Corney was also inspired by photographs of deserted landmarks in London which captured the eerie silence of the city. She was keen to create a more personal social history that provided a snapshot of how local people were dealing with the lockdown.

“I thought of this concept of people being at home, framed by their doorsteps,” Ms Corney said. “I saw it could be an interesting marriage of both portrait and documentary photography.” 

Ms Corney was intrigued by how windows and doors framed her photographic subjects as they looked out at a changing world. Two Metres is a poignant commentary on the interplay between the public and private spheres during a time of unprecedented global change.

“I asked people the questions that were troubling me in this very strange, frightening time. It was heartening to hear stories of how people coped, managed, and in some cases got to spend more time with their loved ones than they would normally have. It was heartbreaking to hear some stories and to see the devastation that the virus had caused so quickly,” Ms Corney said. 

Told through the stories of Londoners from all walks of life, the collection chronicles how different people, framed within the confines of their home, have navigated the challenges and uncertainties brought about by the lockdown. 

Adrian and Angie took part in Clap for our Carers from their balcony. Photo: Ruth Corney

“I met plasters, council workers, street cleaners, and lots of other people who were helping everyone who needed it. What I witnessed was kindness, generosity, and a willingness to help everyone in our society.”

Two Metres goes beyond the surface, delving into intimate stories of resilience, community spirit, and loneliness. 

“Because of isolation, they were just very happy to talk—they found it a relief to speak to a different face,” Ms Corney said. “There was a genuine happiness to see and share experiences. They knew they were living through something none of us had seen before and wanted that documented.”

Reflecting on the sobering experience of producing the collection, Ms Corney said, “It really affected me. I wanted to come home and cry sometimes. It felt very raw. Seeing just how grateful people were when we showed up with food made me feel deeply sad—there is such a desperate need. It made us realise quite how hard this has hit people.” 

All the proceeds from the photo book will be going to the Alexandra Wylie Tower Foundation (AWTF), a charity that works with schools and community groups to tackle inner-city poverty and ensure that young people have equal access to opportunities in life. 

North London Photographer Documents Lockdown Experiences to Honour Camden's Community Spirit
The AWTF works with schools and community groups in London. Photo: AWTF

The AWTF works in partnership with Islington’s Ringcross Community Centre (RCC), both of which have been important organisations in helping to deliver food parcels to people in need throughout the pandemic. 

“Before the lockdown, up to 15 families a day used the RCC food bank. Each week since March, the number of people in crisis coming to the food bank has shot up and now there can be as many as 70 families a day reaching out for assistance,” reported the AWTF.

North London Photographer Documents Lockdown Experiences to Honour Camden's Community Spirit
The RCC are facing an increase in demand for food donations. Photo: AWTF

Two Metres is both a memorialisation of a moment in time and a narrative that weaves together the diverse threads of human experience during the pandemic. 

The collection stands as a testament to the community spirit of Camden, where courage and compassion have kept the community together in the face of adversity.

Click here to purchase a copy of Two Metres.

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About Author

Zayna is a Content Editor at Salesforce Ben, a Freelance Writer at LeadGeneratorsDigital, and a Contributing Writer at Good News Shared. She hopes to cast light on the ripple effect of small acts of kindness that lead to great waves of change.

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