As England prepares to remove social-distancing rules, Paul Treacy looks back at how photography has helped him cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

In November 2019, I left my staff photography job for health reasons. I needed a rest before returning to freelancing.

However, despite having things set up in terms of teaching and exhibiting, the pandemic hit and the world went into lockdown. Work dried up and I didn't qualify for any government assistance. And I caught Covid-19.


As I'm asthmatic, I was hit hardest in my family.

I recovered quickly but that lasted only a few weeks before "long Covid" had its claws in me.

My energy levels wavered. Brain fog dulled my senses. My asthma became quite difficult to control for a while, my eyes very dry. Lots of hair fell out. My knees stopped working properly. And worst of all, I was not making photographs.

I felt I could seize up if I wasn't careful.


I had one daily chore, walking the dog. And this meant I was going outside and moving.

But often our walks were short and I cannot always see and make pictures when in charge of a big rescue dog.

So in order for me to sustain my creativity, I figured I needed two walks daily, a dog walk and a photo walk.

With the brain fog, I couldn't work very effectively much of the time and was doing stupid things such as forgetting to turn off the cooker.

It worried me for a while. I just couldn't get a grip on myself. And this went on for months.


But when I went out for my photo walks, I could see pictures. I could work effectively, if slowly. I had my knees wrapped tight to help with walking and carried only a single, fixed-lens camera.

Mostly, I walked the same route, close to my house. On occasion, I ventured further afield. When I was feeling stronger and clearer headed, I rode my bicycle or carried a second camera.

The lack of vehicles moving about spewing fumes into the air never ceased to amaze me.


The few people I would happen upon seemed glad to see me - and I them.

Mostly, they were fellow dog walkers relishing escaping their bubbles for a while and away from their work Zoom calls or stir-crazy youngsters. Mostly, we nodded to each other, acknowledging the other's existence and glad of it as a reminder we were all having to deal with this.

I noticed too more detritus about the place.

Lewisham Council removed litter bins and there seemed to be more fly-tipping, sometimes providing things to make photographs of, such as the mirror cabinet in the street, looking like some sort of portal to another place and time.


Just up the road, in Penge, south-east London, there are a series of little alleyways I often stroll through.

One evening at dusk, I happened upon party balloons spilling over a garden fence.

I waited for people to pass by, hoping to make a picture.

It was still light when I started, and dark when I finished.

No-one asked what I was doing. No-one cared, I suppose, or didn't want to make conversation, as we were still deep into lockdown.

People were wary of each other then.


On one of my bicycle outings, I met a three-legged fox.

It was about the only other living thing I came across in an area normally very busy.

It had a large piece of chicken or battered fish in its mouth.

It was as curious about me as I was about it.

We regarded each other for a time.

It was strange and lovely.

Stunning view

One morning, in the early stages of my constitutionals, when I was not yet so fatigued by long Covid, I ventured to the top of Sydenham Hill as dawn was breaking, with a particular photograph in mind.

Years earlier, I had noticed a skyscraper under construction, catching sunlight as fog dissipated, and made a mental note while driving over the hill, which has a stunning view of the city.


I thought the rising Sun would appear just so, as dense fog cleared. But I got the positioning all wrong and ended up waiting for some hours in the cold for the fog to lessen and the Sun to shine from the right direction. And sure enough, that very skyscraper was the first building to emerge from the murk, glistening like gold.

After several months, the government announced the gradual lifting of restrictions. This allowed me to meet up with other photographers - and on one such occasion, I ventured into Soho to meet up with another street photographer.

The streets were mobbed with revellers, mostly adhering to social distancing and mask wearing. There was a wonderful atmosphere.


My colleague was interested in making crowd pictures. I was still seeking out lone figures and more atmospheric scenes, such as the man in the corner of his first-floor flat. But meeting up was a confidence booster. It gave me hope - a sense society still existed and this would all eventually end.

I've always been fascinated by mundanity. And with fewer people on the streets, mundanity was all I had to work with. But there are delights to behold all the time and everywhere - such as the cloud caught in a tree and the Sun appearing to shine out through a second-floor window.


Walking the dog late one evening, I noticed a security light behind a monkey-puzzle tree in a garden I walk past most days. This backlit monkey-puzzle tree still fills me with delight.

This project has changed me as a person and street photographer - and much for the better.