Isolation explored in Furloughed Friendship photo exhibition in Lewes

When she missed her friends during the first lockdown of 2020, photographer Sarah Weal decided to take pictures of them through their windows, allowing her to connect with them at a time of isolation.

Furloughed Friendship Lucy and Jonny
Furloughed Friendship Lucy and Jonny

The resulting project, Furloughed Friendship, is now being exhibited in Lewes, the home town of the artist and her portrait subjects.

What she hadn’t anticipated was how the photographs would be impacted by the glass in the windows. Not only did it serve as a barrier, offering protection from disease while impeding conversation, but in the bright sunshine of those early months of the pandemic, vivid reflections were created on the panes.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

Sarah said the experience of photographing her friends and their families was bitter sweet. “At times the glass made me feel more alone than ever. The feeling of solitude heightened when there was a strong reflection and I had to see past it to find the subject. My sitters couldn’t possibly anticipate what I was seeing. The act of photographing them with trees reflected in their stomachs, clouds in their heads or blossom on their faces, all unlicensed, became entrancing... empowering even.”

A commercial photographer specialising in shooting portraits of makers, Sarah’s work dried up instantly when Covid first hit.

Rather than sit down and think about how she could make sense of it all, she allowed the project to evolve organically as a series of posts on Instagram.

She would arrange the time of her visit with whomever she was closest to in the household, usually the woman, then leave it to chance as to who came to the window. The result is a range of different family combinations, from people on their own, with their partner or with one or more children: “Although I was photographing families, it was not a family portrait session. It was very much how I was feeling in response to them.

“What I noticed is people were really excited about being photographed. Firstly, it was interaction and some people had not seen anyone for weeks. Secondly, just to be seen, for someone to want to photograph you at a time when you feel you’re not allowed out into the world to make your mark.”

This summer Sarah’s work will feature in The Beacon Show, a public art trail celebrating Seaford Beach and the people who use and maintain it, organised by arts charity Sussex Contemporary Illustrators and Printmakers (SCIP). For more information visit www.wearescip.co.uk

Furloughed Friendship runs at the Meiklejohn Gallery until May 7.

Have you read: Hastings panto announced