In mid-February 2020 the Australian Government informed Australians the coronavirus outbreak would become a pandemic and announced a health emergency response plan to COVID-19. On March 11 the World Health Organisation officially declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic. In New South Wales highly restrictive stage 3 lockdown measures came into effect on March 30, which severely limited people’s movements and gatherings, including children’s schooling, retail, transport and religious and social activities.
As restrictions began to lift in incremental stages beginning in May, Sydney-based photographer Katherine Lu was invited by the Museum to visually document experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic on everyday life in Sydney. Her series specifically captures objects and visual communication in the built environment as related to COVID-19. Her brief was to document the urban experience with architecture functioning as the context and platform in relation to social distancing and the related design methods for communicating these new realities. The photographs capture design elements that reflect both official and community responses. Some of the things the pandemic has made people acutely aware of are aspects of everyday life we take for granted in the city, ie the convenience of shopping and socialising in different settings, the expectation of uninterrupted supply chains, safe commuting and the right to attend places of religious worship.
Katherine’s photographs capture a diversity of experiences from Sydney’s central business district and Chinatown; to the inner-city areas of Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, Chippendale and Paddington; the inner-west neighbourhoods of Marrickville and Newton; and Parramatta in Western Sydney. Her photographs from the Newtown ‘Blessing Box’, a shared street-side pantry providing free food and essentials initially to refugees and then spreading more widely to others in financial need to a make-shift plastic-door handle cover in Chinatown, Katherine’s photographs beautifully capture creativity, invention and resourcefulness in a time of urgency and great uncertainty and anxiety.
The Newtown Blessing Box (street pantry) was set up on the corner of Bedford St and Station St in Newtown by housemates Michelle Lee, Michelle Gomes and Joyce Akinpe. Initially, they supplied the food, but other community members and local businesses quickly began to add to the food and essential supplies and people began leaving caring messages to support vulnerable and at risk members of the community including refugees, students and those unemployed due to COVID-19.
Katie Dyer, Senior Curator Contemporary