A Quiet Earth

by Daniel Conn

A Quiet Earth documents the world of Aberdeen’s iconic medium-density housing during the bleakest moments of 2020’s summer lockdown. The accompanying essay tracks the story behind photographs as they explore the identity of a personless world. 

Each one of these photographs radiates the barren heat of the summer of 2020, yet they glimmer with a certain unique and personal quality that intensify with prolonged exposure. 

I shot all of them during the height of the lockdown restrictions when the Covid-19 Pandemic really began to take its truly horrifying effect on many people and the country itself.

At first, I didn’t know what to think about it as I was just trying to adjust to a new way of living and not letting it all get to me emotionally or mentally.

I had seen many of my friends and past work colleagues use the medium of photography to appropriately express and communicate their own thoughts, feelings and overall experiences with it while also using it as a means to document these strange and uncertain times for a future generation to look back on and see the truth of what really was happening.

I also wanted to do the same, but I didn’t know how or even which way to approach creativity as a serious subject.

Until one day, I was out exploring Aberdeen and I came across this unknown area or small neighbourhood that I had never seen or came across before. It was oddly very quiet and quite surreal looking as no one was around with no signs of life, almost like a ghost town. I felt the buildings were unoccupied and empty, it made me feel like I was the last person on earth and the more I wandered around and looked at these buildings, the more I felt the impression that this place was cut off from the rest of civilization, plus the fact was, I hadn’t come across these kinds of buildings and houses before, they looked different.

It all seriously reminded me of the fake towns built and used during tests of nuclear weapons during the 1950s in America where groups of mannequins were placed in family homes, this place had that quality about it as they were almost perfect looking at first sight, but the more you look you felt slightly disturbed and creeped out as there was something quite off about them, maybe this was because there is a strong similarity in each picture, all the houses have a common structure.

I also noticed that quite a few of the buildings and houses were partly boarded up, especially the windows and doors, I wondered if it was to keep people inside or keep people out and all these kinds of questions were entering my mind and I couldn’t answer them.

I found it fascinating and my curiosity immediately led to the decision where these subjects would be worthy of being photographed, documented and used as a means to express how I personally felt during lockdown and the pandemic overall.

I truly believed that these houses really expressed how I felt during this year as it was the feeling of being forced to stay inside, get off the streets and the self-imposed loneliness and isolation while being cut off from the rest of the world as human contact felt as if it was banned and even partly dangerous.

While I was editing these images, I found them to be far more interesting and thought-provoking than I had originally thought or intended.

All these ideas suddenly started speaking to me.

Every house almost looks the same, but at the same time, has an individual quality about it as architecture can almost reflect the human beings who built and live in them as distinctly as genetics define a face.

As to me, it felt that these images were all about the absence of life as the photographs do not have humans within them, but the houses themselves do almost suggest a human presence in each building and each one describes this in very interesting ways by precise detail. Such as, A car in the background, attached satellite dishes, a slanted shed, bins, connecting telephone wires, overgrown gardens, empty washing lines, cut down hedges, windows and doors that aren’t boarded up with open and closed curtains and blinds.

In my mind, all these little details indicate the presence of human life inside, but it is never directly stated, they could even pass as portraits of the particular house’s inhabitants as they’re not really about architecture or a landscape per se, but the people that may or may not be inside them as a certain personality comes across in each picture.

However, we will never know the people or the inhabitants who live here and that is why any real assumption about them might be opposite or untrue.

As the idea could be: this is what we leave behind and how everything hints that the times have moved us on, it can be a personal form of paradise in our home, as even the trees briefly communicate that effect.

It’s an impression of human existence within a deeply isolated area plagued by loneliness as all these little details tell a story, help build character and establish a running theme throughout each picture that can be interpreted differently as based solely on the viewer’s thoughts and feelings about the subject matter.

It’s my intent that I let the viewers interpret the human beings that live behind the walls of these houses as in reality, their lives are concealed behind the walls of that particular house, but one can possibly begin to understand if we look closer and think.