Over the final two weeks of Australia’s first COVID-19 lockdown period in March, April and May 2020, photographers Bill McAuley and David Wadelton were commissioned by Manningham Council to capture how our community responded to this important historical moment. Empty Streets and Stacked Chairs is an exhibition of some of the most poignant photographs from that commission.
A blend of quiet shopping centres, masked baristas, shut-up shops, plastic wrap, ad-hoc signage and busy walking tracks, the photos are an ambiguous tale of fear, adaptation, disappointment, hope, worry and perseverance. They convey the sense of calm that descended on our community as, like the rest of the country, we collectively paused to survey our current and future lives, and took to exercising, learning new skills and exploring new ways to do old things. But they also speak to experiences of isolation and opportunity lost, to the negative financial impacts of the lockdown and to the disruption of everyday activities that we can take for granted, like sitting down for a coffee or taking kids to the playground.
The photos also form an engaging record due to the perspectives of the photographers. While Wadelton’s images are a sensitive and revealing portrait of the physical texture and shape Manningham’s streets, houses and shops, McAuley’s focus in large part on the human stories and encourage reflection of the impact measures like mask wearing and social distancing can have. Together, they are a fascinating contribution to the story of a point in time that will be felt for many years to come.
Image: David Wadelton, Bulleen Corner, 2020, digital photograph.