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Life under Covid-19 | Photography by William Matlala

Updated: Jul 31

While society in this life threatening pandemic has been encouraged to embrace the ‘new normal’, I am taking pictures of the South African society during the Covid-19 lockdown. The focus of these photographs is about life, those trying to cope under conditions not of their making; it is clear that various spheres in society are in a period of fragility. In the field of education, I have taken pictures that focus on how learners and teachers are coping. With teachers remaining vigilant about social distancing, the wearing of masks, hand sanitising, and learners’ remaining for the entire day in the classroom without physical activity or contact with others. At the same time, we have seen many workers returning back to work under the opening of the economy during the level 3 lockdown, it is clear that workers are also dealing with a state of fragility, affecting their lives, as some are living with comorbidities, yet they are compelled to forge a living for themselves and their families in this state of fragility. In compound, workers are worried about their future, their colleagues testing positive for the virus, others losing their lives and jobs. This period for the workers is a hyper-state of insecurity. While it has been clear that the virus attacks those with weak immune systems; those who are exercising are also finding it difficult to keep healthy and fit in this pandemic; obliged to cover their noses and mouth to protect themselves, it is difficult for them to train adequately. The preservation of life is at the centre of everything, but it is clear that the psychosocial instability brought by the pandemic is not just threatening life, it is also threatening the future that is being protected. There is already an ongoing fear which is a result of the fact that the virus might take a while to disappear and for life to return to ‘normal’. This fear is conjoined with the fear that many in future are bound to live with different psychosomatic issues which might have developed during the period of the lockdown.


The current situation, in many ways, affords photography a new legislation which amends the progress photography has made in the past when faced with pandemics. This continuation is such that photography is compelled to know similitudes of past pandemics to Covid-19; and ultimately, because in the country the regulations of the public have been compartmentalised according to ‘levels’, photography has a chance of recording the progress of many people in their understanding of the preventive measures necessary in their everyday lives. One could say that there is only one tradition of photography and that is to understand the situation at hand, whether the situation is characterised as an accident or an ongoing reality, for the purpose of creating visual memory supplied with the meaning integral to the spoken and written word. This is how photography in creating frozen time, through frozen images, manages to creates a past. That photography is concerned with expansion of the time does not mean that photography is a science that finds appreciation from things which are disconcerting, but it is that photography is a medium that is concerned with getting all the possible perspectives of a given situation; this is the reason when I take a picture in a classroom the story of the learners and that of the teacher are made readily available in the picture. Different perspectives in images are important because they reveal the prevailing advices in the setting that photographing is taking place, and this goes hand-in-hand with the internal motivations of those who are being photographed. Those who are photographed reveal personal feelings and shared sympathies. Since most of the photographed people already know that every person in the world is affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, they seem to reveal a universal sympathy, which is from a realisation that what they are going through others as well are going through.


– William Matlala-2020


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