The photographer capturing intimate portraits of his friends in lockdown

With ‘Lives in Limbo’, London-based creator Sebastian Barros finds moments of beauty amidst the isolation and boredom.

by Roisin Lanigan
|
24 February 2021, 9:50am

Imagery courtesy of Sebastian Barros.

When the UK was plunged into lockdown (the first time) in March 2020, most of us thought that we’d be stuck at home, separated from our friends and family for a few weeks, maybe a month tops, until this whole pandemic thing had blown over. But as we inch towards March 2021, not a lot has changed, and many of us are still separated from many of our loved ones. Understandably, fatigue and lockdown misery is still rife. But amongst the boredom and the isolation and the monotony, moments of humanity and beauty persist.

It was these moments that London-based photographer Sebastian Barros wanted to capture when he happened upon an ingenious way of shooting portraits of his loved ones near the beginning of the pandemic. In the early days of WFH, Sebastian posted disposable film cameras to his friends with a simple invitation: capture their lockdown lives. No direction, no edits, no scripts. Just eight stories, simply told. The result is Lives in Limbo, an intimate and surprisingly uplifting series that captures the most simultaneously boring and eventful year of our lives.

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“The only thing I could do was retreat from the digital noise, give agency back to my subject and try to communicate their stories as authentically and sensitively as I could. So that's what I've done,” Sebastian says. “Digital became a paradox for me. The internet kept us all connected but, in the early days of WFH, WiFi blackouts and zoom freezes, it also represented something unreliable and disappointing. As a photographer I'm used to building my own perspective, I'm either on set or I'm documenting a world in motion -- being unable to do either of those things or to rely on the internet was frustrating for me.”

As the UK edges towards the “roadmap” out of lockdown and an air of cautious optimism descends across an increasingly vaccinated population, we caught up with Sebastian to reflect on his project and on staying creative during strange times.

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How has lockdown been for you? Where are you living these days and how are you feeling? I almost feel a bit guilty saying this, but for me, lockdown in the most part has been really great.  It's been such a pivotal point of my life from a personal growth perspective. I’ve had the opportunity to pause, reflect and reimagine my goals both personally and professionally.  My girlfriend and I decided we wanted to move out of the city and into an area which stimulated us more creatively so we’re now surrounded by woods and greenery. It's really done wonders for us. Never thought I’d be a guy who goes running at 8AM, but here we are.

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What inspired you to create Lives in Limbo**?
**I think any creative person is interested in and influenced by the world around them, and I definitely felt an urge to contribute to the conversation of early lockdown. What I found restrictive at first, not being able to shoot how I usually would, became an exploration into different forms of story-telling and also a way for me personally to process the anxiety and isolation we were all feeling.

**Were you surprised by the photographs you got back from your friends? Did it make you see any of them differently?
**Not so much differently but it made me feel more connected to them and their loved ones. Seeing how they experienced lockdown and finding similarities to my own experience was reassuring. That feeling that collectively we were all encountering similar emotions was reassuring. There was a lot of anxiety of course but I also saw a lot of determination, hope and kindness which I think you can see in the imagery - that was something I always knew about my friends but it was wonderful to see that played out visually.

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Do you have a favourite image from the series? [My friend] Lana lying on the floor of her lounge soaking in the morning light, perfectly invokes the feeling me and a lot of people were experiencing at certain points in lockdown -- an overall weariness but appreciation of those moments of simple, natural beauty.

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How has the pandemic changed your practice? I’ve slowed down and put more thought into the projects I undertake, which has brought about more creativity. I also think I have more of a connection to my subject. We’ve all gone through a collective trauma; for me it's become even more important to recognise how that has affected everything individually and adjust my practice accordingly

**What are you hopeful for in 2021?
**It sounds cheesy but I really am hopeful that we are moving into a kinder, more measured and democratic approach to life generally. The cultural and societal conversation has shifted which is reflected in the artistic output in terms of casting and opportunity. I think that’s a wonderful and important change and one that I hope is here to stay. On a personal note, I want to spend more time IRL with my friends and family and if I do get an opportunity to travel -- never again will I take that for granted.

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Lockdown