Scenes from Ridley Road Market during lockdown captured by photographer

One hundred and four of the 239 portraits Hackney photographer Gideon Mendel took during the first lockdown in 2020. 

One hundred and four of the 239 portraits Hackney photographer Gideon Mendel took during the first lockdown in 2020. - Credit: Gideon Mendel, assisted by Maria Quigley

A Hackney photographer has been shortlisted for a photography prize after capturing the people of Ridley Road Market at the start of the pandemic. 

Photographer Gideon Mendel's work usually takes him around the world, but when the coronavirus pandemic struck he found himself drawn to his local and much-loved Dalston market. 

While cycling one day in early 2020, Mendel noticed Ridley Road painted with red lines, marking an ideal two metre distance between people to prevent the spread of Covid. 

The photographer, who has lived in Hackney since about 1991, said: "I was very struck by those, there was something about them. I wanted to address them with my work in some way."

Mendel set up a fixed frame with his tripod, marking the ground with pen. He then started to take photos "obsessively", interviewing hundreds of people wearing masks in the market over 104 days during the first lockdown, which started in March last year and ended on July 3. 


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He told the Gazette: "I couldn't do it in the day time but [the market] is cleared away everyday so I used to come in the late afternoon or evening and do portraits of people wearing masks.

"It was in the early days of mask wearing and in a way it was kind of public statement – a statement of caring about others as well as your own care."

Hackney filmmaker Elam Forrester.

“I am a freelance flmmaker and have two side-jobs in a gym and a juice bar. So everything stopped at the end of March, once lockdown begun. I then got a mild version of the virus and isolated myself beyond the recommended time as I had lost my sense of taste and smell. Although it was uncomfortable I feel quite lucky that I escaped with my life, and three months later I am still left without a sense of smell." Filmmaker and mutual aid volunteer Elam Forrester, May 19, 2020. - Credit: Gideon Mendel, assisted by Maria Quigley

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Five of Mendel's Ridley Road project have been shortlisted for the international, free-to-enter, Wellcome Photography Prize this year, which celebrates visual stories bringing issues around global health to life. 

The 2021 shortlist includes the work of 31 photographers from around the world, with pictures exploring global health challenges such as infectious disease, global heating and mental health. Mendel's photographs were submitted in the infectious disease category. 

It has been more than a year since Mendel took his pictures of Ridley Road and he says "things have changed so much" since then.

The requirement to wear masks will be scrapped on July 19 as the government prepares for its fourth and final stage out of lockdown. 

Mendel said the voices of the people in the pictures are really important. 

"It wasn’t just the photographs but it was getting a sense of their experience," he added. 

Client success manager Angie Pieters, May 20, 2020. 

"I do realise I’ve had an easy ride compared to others. No one in my inner circle has had a severe case of Covid-19, I still have my job and I’ve got a roof over my head. Not being able to go home when I wanted was my biggest struggle and that’s nothing compared to how the whole situation has affected others. I feel mixed emotions about wearing a mask. I’m okay with wearing it in shops and on public transport. It’s obviously not a guarantee of not getting or not spreading the virus but even if it helps a little bit, it’s worth it I guess. Hopefully things will go back to normal soon." Client success manager Angie Pieters, May 20, 2020. - Credit: Gideon Mendel, assisted by Maria Quigley

"Everyone had different kinds of experiences of the lockdown and of the virus at that particular point in time, from someone whose mother had been infected and died, to those who had had the disease to nurses working."

Originally from South Africa, Mendel began working as a photojournalist in 1983 photographing the struggle against apartheid. His current work focuses much more heavily on issues such as climate change and has seen him involved in activist organisations such as Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion. 

The photographer says the virus disrupted the beginning of an exciting year for him. He had been working in Australia photographing the aftermath of the 2020 bushfires that swept the country and had to rush back home.  

He said: "I then had a horrible week when everything that was planned; exhibitions, a residency and workshops all collapsed.

"I fear that my initial response was rather narcissistic, obsessing about my own predicament rather than seeing the broader picture and the damage being done to so many.

"I felt it was important to develop some sort of creative response and began to explore the changing social landscape of my neighbourhood in Hackney."

The long-time Hackney resident hopes to exhibit or publish his photos of Ridley Road Market in the future. The project, called 2METRES: Mask Portraits on Ridley Road, was created with the support of emerging artist Maria Quigley. 

Hackney resident Sandra Odalipo

“I was working as a volunteer at The Loops, a charity that refurbishes and recycles old furniture, but they had to close down due to the virus. I’m an asylum seeker and as soon as the lockdown came I was housed into Queen Mary’s hostel. I couldn’t quite believe that one could be locked in a place for such a long time without going outside. What really troubled me most was the idea of having to sit down and do nothing, so I made sure that I went outside and often took walks with my house-mates. I noticed that I was always thinking and was not as happy as I could be so I registered for lots of activities. I was doing yoga classes online, I was doing English lessons online and I was doing biking theory lessons.” Charity volunteer Sandra Odalipo, June 5, 2020. - Credit: Gideon Mendel, assisted by Maria Quigley

He said the the response to his project was "amazing", adding: "I met many lovely, heroic, gentle, generous, ordinary and extraordinary people during this endeavour. I decided to bring my shooting to an end as lockdown ended on July 3, and have found myself so missing those frequent visits to Ridley Road."

The shortlist for the Wellcome Photography Prize 2021 was announced on 23 June and the winner will be announced on 28 July via YouTube Live on the Wellcome Trust's YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNawmJaKLhg

Learn more about the photography prize at wellcome.org/what-we-do/our-work/wellcome-photography-prize/2021


Find out more about Gideon Mendel at gideonmendel.com

Hana Lameiras in Ridley Road Market.

“The biggest impact the coronavirus crisis has had on my life is, by far, my redundancy seven months after my relocation in the UK. I cried when I heard the news because I was feeling like a failure and I was ashamed of what people were going to think about me. Now I am grateful for where I’m at and excited about where I am going because it taught me to be resilient and to have the courage to grow into the unknown. My sister gave this pink mask. I know it looks like a panty but I like it better than those soul-less blue masks. This is my personal reminder that I should never be afraid to stand out." IT project manager, Hana Lameiras July 1, 2020. - Credit: Gideon Mendel, assisted by Maria Quigley

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