Photo-based artist Walter Segers has produced a suite of photographs dealing
with identity, isolation, and belonging. Over several years, he has photographed a person, sitting or standing alone in places such as theatres, schools, places of worship and city parks where one would usually find gatherings. Although the solitary subject is placed in familiar surroundings, they face an immensity of space devoid of others. These scenes are a critical reflection on our need for social interaction, where the contemporary protocols around “social distancing” are related to the physical isolation and empty spaces in complex ways given the virtual world of Instagram, video games and social media. These images raise critical questions about the nature of our connected world, and the complex ways individuals experience loneliness, isolation, and seclusion within a regulated response to a life-endangering pandemic.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic the artist was compelled to depict a world without physical interaction. This social experiment involving lock downs and state emergency responses have a tremendous effect on mental health. It is harder on the most vulnerable, including the marginalized. Individuals face massive changes to everyday routines. Daily habits and rituals that profoundly define human existence have been upended. The potential for debilitating forms of anxiety and depression for many is real. These images raise disturbing questions about the nature of democracy and the limits it faces under and global health emergency where authoritarian measures bring involuntary restrictions on fundamental forms of democratic belonging. The artist’s ongoing body of work has gained a new relevancy during the COVID-19 pandemic . While each image evokes a thoughtful response on its own, seen together in this series it has an eerie power to inform a vital sense of what’s at stake as we face the contemporary global health emergency.