‘Philippa in Lockdown, Canterbury, Kent’ – Ranald Mackechnie

‘The pattern of life has changed: the house is tidier, delayed tasks have been completed, the car is idle, and as the chief gardener I’ve never been so happy or productive. The year of 2020 will never be forgotten.’ – Philippa

‘Philippa in Lockdown, Canterbury, Kent’

In terms of execution, this photograph and it’s accompanying caption are excellent examples of how image and text can work together to give us, the viewer, an insight into the subjects personality and lifestyle.

What we see in this image is the subject, Philippa, stood left of centre frame in the foreground of a garden. She appears late middle aged, wearing a red check shirt over a red t-shirt and black trousers with work boots. Phillipa has rosy cheeks and a posed smile and gazes off to the right of frame beyond the photographer. In her right hand is a gardening fork, almost a walking stick grasp and in her left arm at an angle as she places her hand on her hip.
Behind Phillipa we see a well kept, tall shrubbery and she stands on a mown lawn. To her left a wheel barrow, containing gardening rubbish, in front off several flag stones and pallets leant up against the shrubs. Across the whole scene is the bright but low sunlight of an early morning in spring casting long shadows and falling on her curled permed grey hair.

This scene appears to be the epitome of a British garden, person and summer.

On the surface of things, this is exactly what the image is showing us. We are presented with all the cues of Britishness, the control over land and property, the stoic persona and the golden sunlight. You can almost hear ‘Hallelujah’ playing over the scene. But where this image succeeds in evoking those ideas it also reveals the subtleties of how imagery can be used to influence identify and perceptions of cultural roles. 

I raise this as an issue because this image was taken in 2020. If I am right in saying this was from the springtime, or early summer, Britain was in the midst of the first Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, which is reflected in the caption stating “The pattern of life has changed.” In essence this image is the photographic version of “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

Whilst there is a need for unifying and rousing images to rally individuals into a community cause, the line between ‘this represents what we need’ to do and ‘this represents who you need to be to take part’ is one which needs to be carefully managed. 

In this case the image could be read as, let’s make good use of our time in lockdown by keeping ourselves fit and healthy by being out in our gardens. This will mean we have help make our homes better, more comfortable and better for the environment and the side effect is we won’t be bored as there is plenty to do in and around the garden. This, I feel, is the seemingly harmless intention of the image. 

The other reading of the image is one which excludes the vast majority of British citizens from inclusion in this idealised identity. As a reader we must recognise that 83% of the English population live in some sort or urban environment, 1/2 again of those are in a city or town. So from a population of 54 million, 24million of those are highly unlikely to have a garden space and a further 20million are in a major conurbation again very unlikely to have access to land like is shown. 

We also need to account for the fact that over 90% of people of colour live in urban settings as apposed to less than 78% of white people.

In terms of earnings, excluding London, the majority rural areas (classed as having access to an urban area) on average have an median income between 8% and 15% more than majority urban areas.

And finally that nearly 83% of people living in Urban areas are under the age of 65. 

So what do these facts tell us.
They tell us that if you want this idealised British identity you need to be White, over the age of 65 and have either worked in London or equally in an area which is rural with good access to urban.

This image is reinforcing the identity of Britishness but only be excluding the overwhelming majority of people who in one form or another cannot conform to these characteristics.

As much as I love this portrait, I recognise that as a singular image it can be perceived as perpetuation of British exceptionalism. The message that these green and pleasant pastures will provide for us if only we use our time to work the lands and reap from them joy and life. That in the face of a global pandemic a true Brit will crack on head down to keep their house in order and by doing so we will be full of vitality of life into our old age. 

And finally, rather unfortunately for Phillipa, the attached quote further embodies this detachment from reality that all good ‘propaganda’ utilises. In this quote we hear from an individual concerned with their own environment and wellbeing. They are happy and organised because they have the time do so in lockdown. But what we see in the image is someone who is most likely retired to the country in a nice house, signs of someone who would most likely have none of the struggles of those who do not fit into the slim categorisation of the British identity being presented.






Foot Notes

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