Until the lockdown and the worldwide pandemic struck back in March 2020, I spent my life racing here, there and everywhere, barely stopping to study my surroundings. I have had a busy life with various jobs and two children, and I didn’t realise it, but a hole needed filling. Photography did that.
I found it challenging to remain locked in during the lockdown and soon realised that the allocated exercise time plus the great advantage of owning a dog allowed me to walk around London and explore.
It was eerily quiet with empty streets, and I began by taking photographs with my i-phone of the deserted roads. I will never forget standing at the top of The Mall at about 9 o’clock one weekday morning during what would have been a rush hour, and there wasn’t a single car in sight. The parks were equally empty at the very beginning of the first lockdown. It was then that I started studying my surroundings in close detail, from flora and fauna in the parks to the detail of buildings and structures that I had known all my life but never truly looked at before. So many people have said to me that although they knew a building, bridge or structure exceptionally well, they had never seen it from that angle or noticed details that I could point out through my photographs.
Since I was a child, photography has been part of my life, but I never saw myself as a photographer. My mother was a keen photographer and a very good amateur watercolourist. Until lockdown and Covid 19 struck, my photographs mainly consisted of happy snaps of my friends and children.
Then, last August, I won the Evening Standard Life in Lockdown Competition 2021. Not only first place but also fourth and ninth out of twenty. The first prize was for a photograph I took of Albert Bridge in Chelsea, and I can only say that after I had taken the shot, I jumped for joy with excitement. I had this instant feeling it was the one. And I’ve had that feeling a few times. The photograph that came fourth was taken early one morning in Hyde Park of two people walking near the Serpentine. They were silhouettes against a very crisp light on a chilly November morning in 2020. The ninth prize winner was a view of Buckingham Palace taken through two pillars of a balustrade at one of the entrances to St James Park. The pillars gave the impression of looking through a keyhole, and I chose it to be the cover of my book LONDON SILENCED.
Winning that competition gave me the confidence to do more photography, and in-between lockdowns, I was venturing further afield, discovering parts of London that I hadn’t known before. I was fascinated to learn the history of various areas such as Clerkenwell and Spitalfields. Clerkenwell has one of the oldest domestic buildings in London, dating back to the 15th century. The oldest is part of the Tower of London. Not many houses survived before the Great Fire of London in 1666.
I am drawn to the river. One day is never the same as the next, and photographs from the same spot look different in changing weather and light. I hadn’t realised how busy the river is for transporting building materials, waste and goods, and the Uber Riverboats transporting people, some of whom commute daily on these boats. Smaller companies rent out ribs and various types of boats, including a Venetian taxi boat, the first one to be licensed by Port of London.
Not to mention the many houseboats, some of which are permanent residences and feel rather village-like on the river.
I can genuinely say that creating the book resulted from social media. I received an enormous amount of positive feedback and encouragement.
Publishing a book is like being on a roller coaster. There were many times when I was filled with doubt that anyone would be interested in what I had to show them. This contrasted with the huge thrill when I realized that people did appreciate my work and bought the book.
I have been approached to have an exhibition of my photographs in the new year. I have had some of my images blown up to 3ft square and larger, and I am delighted with how good they look as it is a far cry from seeing an Instagram post on a smartphone.
The moral of this story, as far as I am concerned, is that every cloud does have a silver lining, and one never knows what is around the next corner, but you have to be open to all possibilities, seize the moment and be ready to take some chances in life. Had it not been for the lockdown, I very much doubt I would have slowed down enough to realise what must have been lurking inside me all along – an eye for composition.
My book is for sale via www.claretollemachephotography.com and through four independent bookshops, John Sandoe, in Blacklands Terrace. SW3, Belgravia Books, Eccleston Street. SW1, Heywood Hill in Curzon Street, W1 and Mayhews in Motcomb Street. I am currently trying to get broader distribution for the book.