When Manchester studio photographer Vilija Skubute decided to widen her photography spectrum to include socially engaged photography in 2019 little did she realise that a global pandemic would shape her work for the next two years. Vilija has run her photography business based in Old Trafford for five years but decided to undertake an MSc in Socially Engaged photography at the University of Salford in 2019.
To keep up with her photography work commitments she decided to undertake the course over a two-year period. As part of the course Vilija was required to complete a year long photography project and she decided to focus on those elderly individuals who lived on their own in the Manchester area.
When the Covid lockdown arrived in March 2020 the project not only faced practical obstacles but gave the term “alone” a whole new meaning. As Vilija explained “I had hoped to meet the individuals to give them disposable cameras so that they could document their day-to-day experiences but obviously the lockdown made this impossible. Also the chance to network to attract participants was quickly moved over to zoom and emails.”
The cameras participants needed were posted out to them, and via social media, local radio and with the help of the charities Salford age UK, Age UK Manchester and Inspiring Communities Together Vilija started to help document the lives of those elderly who faced months of isolation and uncertainty.
Vilija said “I was amazed at the stoicism of those that participated as well as their ability to adapt to the new technology such as Zoom at what must have been a very scary and challenging time”.
After the project time, some twelve months, was completed Vilija invited the eleven participants to a get together this September in order for the photographers to view their work and discuss their experience of life during lockdown at the new Manchester bar and theatre charity 53Two.
“It was great to finally meet up with the participant photographers as a group and allow them to meet each other after what had been a very difficult period for them,” Vilija said. “I hope that their work allows us to see through the eyes what it was and still is like to live alone.
“For many individuals who live alone in this community the feeling of isolation did not start with lockdown and will not end now restrictions have been lifted. If the work allows other elderly people to see that whilst living alone they are not alone in their experience this may help bridge gaps between these isolated members of society.”
All the participants of the project were given a book of the complete set of the photos, Vilija said “It was such a privilege to work with these individuals who showed faced such a bleak time with resilience and good humour which I hope comes across in their work.”
Vilija whilst still continuing with her portrait work is hoping to continue working and extending her work with socially engaged projects, as she learnt so much from those involved in this one.
Words By Gary Roberts
You can view the project Alone with recorded interviews of the participants at the virtual gallery – click here
To contact Vilija about this project and her photography work – click here
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Featured image and all in article photos: Vilija Skubute (Alone project)