As a photographer, art historian, and founder of Neja's Art Walks, London-based Julija Svetlova (aka Neja) is used to spending her time culturally engaging with people and taking in the beautiful sceneries and art around her. However, compared to the rest of the world, her personal lockdown began quite early. "On March 4 I did my last art walk (I didn't know it was going to become the last one back then) and on March 5 I fell ill, I still don't know what with. I kind of recovered by March 9 but by then the world began to slowly fall apart. I kept on getting cancellations for my art walks and was having trouble getting any slots for online food shopping deliveries."
She continued, "On March 17, all the art galleries across the country closed down. The 'stay at home' message was delivered by the government on March 23. For a couple of weeks after that, I would go on occasional walks to the local parks and take photos. When April came and I didn't go out that much so I decided to photograph the sky and sunsets through a tiny roof window in my bathroom. I didn’t do it daily but regularly enough. All and all, I ended up shooting 6 rolls of film during the lockdown."
How does the current crisis affect your creative process and daily routine?
Having to stop working was very hard, on top of that, I had to move to my partner’s house for the duration of the lockdown so I couldn’t take too many things with me. I had to leave behind all of my cameras, my scanners, and the negatives archives. The only camera I took with me was LC-Wide, which I haven’t used for quite a long time prior to that. So yes, my photography life felt quite limited during these months. I was hoping to create a new photo book, with my photos from the last summer’s road trip around Ireland, but I just couldn’t focus, my mind kept on drifting away. Reading books and watching movies was nearly impossible, too, for the same reasons.
In the first few weeks of the lockdown, I started going through the albums of my Lomo Home and came up with an idea of the Photo Alphabet. Every day I’d post 3 photos per each letter of the alphabet on my Insta - @juliaonfilm. A for Alhambra, Z for zebra, and so on. This exercise gave my day a bit of structure and it was great to see some long-forgotten photos of mine. Once finished with all the letters, I started a second circle but gave up after a few days.
How do you keep inspired despite the limitations?
At first, I felt very lost and didn’t know what to do with all the time that I suddenly had and how to adapt to this new environment. Eventually, I decided to try and learn drawing so I bought a set of watercolour pencils and some paper, followed by watercolour paints, then watercolour markers, more paper and a bunch of brushes and ink pens. I haven’t drawn anything since I was a teenager and I didn’t want to watch any of the online tutorials because I didn’t want to spend even more time staring at computer screens. I just tried this and that, and started to post my work on Instagram - @nejafeja. The feedback from my followers was very positive, I seemed to have managed to work out my my own drawing style of a sort. I ended up painting from quite a few of my own Lomo photographs, which was a great way to relive the travels of the past. Drawing gave my busy mind a much needed time to rest, it seemed.
Any advice for Lomographers from all over the world?
Stay safe, keep on creating, try to engage with other people. Erin from Tokyo did a great job with her Insta Lives in the beginning of the lockdown, she invited a bunch of photographers, including myself, to talk about photographic practices. I had such a fabulous time showing my photo books to viewers from across the globe. At first, I was very reluctant to take part in Insta Lives, Zoom chats and all of that stuff but eventually I started to run the weekly Insta Lives, too. On my yet another Instagram account (@nejasartwalks) I began to interview my fellow tour guides, film historians, graphic designers, art lovers and all sorts of talented people. Some of them were my real friends whom I haven’t talked to for a very long time, some were people I only knew from the internet. If you ever feel lonely, just make a list of everyone you know and reach out. Humans are social animals and if we no longer can meet face to face, maybe we need to try and adapt.