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Home Sweet Home: photographing Canberra’s lockdown experience

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Cast your mind back to early 2020.

Those first days of the pandemic were dark—especially because COVID-19 hit Australia directly after the catastrophic fires on the South Coast of NSW.

And photographer Belle Hogg, 47, couldn’t stand that moment in time.

“I honestly felt like I was going to go mad being at home,” Belle recalls.

Due to the terrible air quality in Canberra, we’d already been indoors for many long days. The disasters rolled out one after the other and became a blur of anxiety, worry and grief.

But then Belle got used to the change of pace—and started to reflect that there were some good things about it.

“It was this time of reconnection with self and family and friends. We were home [and] not going anywhere and finding ways to just reconnect with each other.”

This is when the inspiration for her latest exhibition, HOME sweet HOME, at Smith’s Alternative in Civic hit her.

“I had seen people around the world doing different things to cope and thought I could give some happiness to others by capturing a moment for them they could keep,” she says.

Belle used the public health constrictions of the pandemic as part of the project’s architecture; she knew she couldn’t be in close contact with her subjects. But she could pull up outside their houses, say hello and ask how her friends were going.

She explains it like this: “I did a shout out on my socials to ask who wanted to join in. For those who were keen—25 families in total—I then gave them a date and time and messaged them when I was out the front of their home and said, ‘Come on out.’

Isaacs by Belle Hogg.

“Whoever was home was in the photo, in some cases there were parents in the middle of home-schooling and others in slippers or no shoes, it didn’t matter,” Belle continues.

For some families, Belle also took video snippets which she gave to them. She imagined her work as memories of the future, which people could give to their children later in life to remind them of “…this time when the world kind of just stopped and said: ‘Oh shit!’”

The result is a show of 34 heart-warming black and white images of Canberra families outside their homes. People are captured in their doorways and gardens, alongside pets and children. On their faces and in their body language, you can see humour, intimacy and often vulnerability.

Behind the photos are personal moments—a brand new baby and a bereaved grandparent overseas who has never seen the child.

Two little home-schooled girls cuddling into their mother with their special teddies. A woman who survived a terrible car accident and her beloved partner beside her.

Home school Wanniassa by Belle Hogg.

Apart from just being plain old “happy” to see people during the pandemic, Belle says the project gave her “…this feeling of a united community going through something together.

“We would start with a bit of a chat and the similar stories being told of having a tough time home-schooling or teenagers telling me they missed their friends or even people losing work. But you know what? They all had this sense of hope and that things could be worse. There were those lovely moments of appreciation for each other and the lives we have. For me, it was a time I felt so grateful I had a safe and comfortable home to be in.

“A lot of the photos you see in the exhibition have a little quote next to them which is how the people in the photo responded when I sent the image to them. I asked them to ‘tell me what home is to you.’ The definition of home is different to each individual and mostly about people and feelings more than the bricks and mortar around them,” Belle says.

Wearing the things we miss by Belle Hogg.

For Belle, hanging up the photos at Smith’s has been an emotional experience.

“I didn’t realise the collection I really had until I got them all printed and laid them out and a few tears welled up as I remembered this time one year ago.

“When my husband Mick got up on the ladder and hung them, it all just came together as I dreamed. One of the walls we also put up vintage creme wallpaper to add to the Victorian feel.

“I had a vision that it would look and feel like an old Victorian parlour room from the 1900s with those portrait walls full of frames, all different sizes and shapes, close together, as if we could all be one family here in Canberra.”

Belle Hogg with her HOME sweet HOME exhibition at Smith’s Alternative.

HOME sweet HOME closes on March 26 at Smith’s Alternative.

Find Belle on Instagram @bellephotog or Facebook: BellePhotographyCanberra

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