Looking back: an interview with rural photographer, Kristina Banholzer on the chance to document Welsh communities during the lockdown.
It was only last week that the First Minister for Wales announced new steps to unlock Wales again. As businesses begin to open up once more, and the current 5-mile travel ban is expected to lift in July, rural creatives like Kristina Banholzer look back on the importance of family community and the chance to document Welsh communities during lockdown.
In an interview with Kristina, she looks back on documenting the lives in her hometown of Y Felinheli and the effects the lockdown has had on her photography business, becoming a new mother and why she supports Wales on taking its own steps to help keep the nation safe over the past three months.
Kristina is a Documentary Photographer hailing from North Wales. She has worked with various Welsh and international companies, creating colourful and energetic images. Some of her clients include ‘S4C’, the ‘BBC’, and ‘Sky’ as well as various theatre companies including, ‘Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’ and ‘The Welsh National Opera’.
Kristina’s responses have been translated into English and Welsh. Kristina is a Welsh photographer and as I am also proud to be Welsh, too so, I wanted to promote our language in this interview. For anyone learning Welsh, I hope you find this helpful, too.
This global epidemic has saw most people make a complete switch from a daily commute to work, to a daily zoom call in their pyjama bottoms from their living room.
Life has been very different and will continue to focus on being able to do the important things.
Rural Wales, photographer, Kristina Banholzer lives in Y Felinheli with her family. As a freelance creative supporting a young family, she said she felt the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 epidemic but, focused on family community in both her work and home life, to seek a newfound balance.
“I think it has affected communities in both positive and negative ways. I have found that by talking to families, they are enjoying spending time together and living life in a slightly ‘old fashioned manner’ in comparison to how they used to live. We have all noticed that we lived life in the fast lane and by slowing everything down a pace we have come to appreciate the things that were right under our nose; family, friends and nature.
I have also felt that communities have grown closer and are thinking of others a lot more, it has been wonderful to hear older/vulnerable people speak so highly of their neighbours. It’s important to document people during this time purely to give people something to look back and remember a time in history because I think unfortunately and inevitably, we will slip back into normality within a blink of an eye,” Kristina says.
“’Dw i’n meddwl ei fod o ‘di effeithio cymunedau mewn ffordd bositif a negatif. Tra’n siarad efo gwahanol deuluoedd ‘dw i ‘di clywed nhw’n deud bod nhw yn mwynhau cael treulio amser gyda’i gilydd a byw ychydig yn fwy hen fashwn i gymharu efo bywyd cyn lockdown. ‘Dw i’n meddwl bo’ ni gyd wedi sylwi ein bod ni di bod yn byw bywyd yn y ‘fast lane’ a drwy arafu’n ddiweddar mi yda ni’n gallu gwerthfawrogi be’ sydd reit o dan ein trwyna: teulu, ffrindia’ a natur.
‘Dw i hefyd yn teimlo bod perthynas o fewn cymunedau wedi cryfhau, pobol yn fwy parod i feddwl am eraill. Mae o’n cynnesu nghalon i pan glwyaf bobl hynaf a mwya’ bregus y gymuned yn canmol eu cymodogion am helpu. Mai’n bwysig dogfennu pobol yn ystod y cyfnod yma i nhw gael cofio adeg mewn hanes – yn anffodus, yn anochel mi fyddwn ni wedi slipio nol mewn i ‘normality’ mewn amrant,” says, Kristina.
Reimagining the lockdown
Part of an initial project to connect with her family community, Kristina decided to document life in Y Felinheli through with permission and safe distancing- photograph ‘family life’ outside their homes.
“I have had a really positive response from everyone, it has been quite overwhelming! I have messages coming in every day asking me to swing by their house as they would like a photo taken, my list is long and I am slowly making my way through it.
I feel like I am able to give families a gift by taking their photo because, I know it won’t mean as much to them now, but in years to come this photo will be priceless. By posting colourful happy photos on social media platforms I hope I’m bringing joy to people from not only Felinheli but further afield too.”
“Dim byd ond ymateb positif gan bawb, mae o ‘di bod yn reit overwhelming! ‘Dw i’n cael negeseuon bob dydd yn holi of fedra i fynd heibio ei cartre nhw i dynnu llun, mae’r list yn un hir ond yn ara’ bach ‘dw i’n cael drwyddi. Mae rhoi’r llunia i’r teuluoedd yn teimlo fel rhodd, efallai nad ydi o’n bwysig ar y funud yma, ond mewn rhai blynyddoedd mi fydd o’n amhrisiadwy. Wrth rhoi llunia’ lliwgar a hwyl ar wefannau cymdeithasol ‘dw i’n gobeithio codi calon pobol, nid yn unig pobol Felinheli ond unrhywun sydd yn dilyn fy ngwaith.
With movements like the ‘stay home, stay safe’ and ‘run 5k, donate 5-pounds to the NHS’, it has given people an opportunity to find comfort in that as a nation and a planet, we are willing to help each other during epidemics like Covid-19.
Although, we are soon to be returning to work and to some normality, there will be dramatic changes to our previous lifestyles.
With measures like social distancing and wearing personal protective equipment in work and in public already in place, and the additional five-mile travel ban in Wales over the past few weeks (set to be lifted in two weeks), routines and business models have already been adjusted.
Whether you own a business or are working for one, being able to see support online and share similar experiences of ‘lockdown life’ and how it has changed your life is an important part of our social norms.
“it’s nice to have a familiar image to compare your life to and knowing that people in the next village / town / city are all at home and facing the same problems too is very comforting for people.
“I have found that posting people’s stories help others to empathise or compare experiences, it helps people feel connected even if they don’t know the person. I will be having an exhibition sometime in the future in order to bring everyone back together and look at all of the images, this will be a project that will be in Felinheli’s history and I am so happy to be a part of it.”
“Mae o’n braf cael llun o wyneb neu sefyllfa sydd yn gyfarwydd, rhywbeth fedrith pobol yn y pentra’/tref/dinas nesa’ uniaithu a hi, gall fod yn gysurus. ‘Dw i ‘di ffeindio bod postio storïau pobol yn helpu i bobol gael empethi neu cymharu eu sefyllfa nhw, mae o’n helpu i bobol deimlo fel bod cysylltiad efo rhywun ‘di nhw’m yn nabod.
“Mi fydda i’n cael arddangosfa ar ddiwedd y cyfnod yma. Cyfle i bawb ddod yn ôl at ei gilydd i gael gweld y llunia. Ma’ hwn yn broject fydd yn rhan o hanes Y Felinheli, a ‘dw i’n hynod falch o gael bod yn rhan ohonni.”
This epidemic is a historic event and should be documented. Future generations will be able to read and research papers on the virus that saw the world find ways to come together whilst being apart.
“I think everyone in the world will take something from this epidemic, and it will most certainly be one of those stories you see in a museum that brings a lump to the throat.
As a person who cares for the environment, I think we have been given a second chance to really look at how much we were abusing the planet. We will also be looking at political issues in a different way, but I won’t go into that! And also, I think we will be keeping in touch and working by using technology a lot more in future. This pandemic has changed almost everything about our lives,” says Kristina.
“‘Dw i’n meddwl neith bawb elwa ryw ffordd neu gilydd o’r pandemic yma, ac yn sicr fydd o’n rywbeth a fydd yn ein gwneud yn emosiynol pan byddwn yn cael ein hatogffa o’r amser. Fel person sydd yn poeni am yr amgylchedd ‘dw i’n credu ein bod ni ‘di cael ail gyfle i edrych ar sut ‘da ni’n cam-drin y blaned.
Mi fyddwn ni hefyd yn edrych ar wleidyddion mewn ffordd gwahanol, ‘na i’m deud mwy am hyna! Ac hefyd, credaf ein bod ni am ddefnyddio technoleg i weithio a cadw cysylltiad lot mwy yn y dyfodol. Mae’r pandemic wedi newid bron i bob dim am ein bywydau.”
Capsulising the lockdown
For creative industries like photography, the photos collected from projects like Kristina’s will be valued and capsulised as a time that has helped many of us rework old values, and encouraged us to appreciate things that we had previously overlooked.
“I felt a bit like a conveyer belt before where I was churning out photos and not really taking notice of what I was shooting and not fully appreciating my job. I have been given a rare chance to look at what is really important in life and creatively do something about it.
“‘Mi o’n i’n teimlo fel ‘conveyer belt’ weithia’ yn tynnu a golygu llwythi o lunia a ddim yn cymyd digon o sylw i fwynhau fy ngwaith. Mae o ‘di rhoi cyfle i mi sylwi be’ ydi’r petha pwysica’ yn fy mywyd a g’neud rhywbeth creadigol bositif.”
Kristina is one of the many photographers who are choosing to document families lives during lockdown. Each photographer has a unique style and angle to the stories they we are able to view through their lens.
We’re a family that ‘zooms’ now
With the UK in lockdown for nearly four months, many families haven’t been able to see each other due to isolation and living in different countries around the world. For families all over the world, they have been able to connect through the video app ‘Zoom’, where regular video calls are a routine now.
“I most definitely see my friends and family more now than I ever did! We keep in touch by doing weekly quizzes and over WhatsApp, just checking in. This is because I used to work so much before lockdown, I used to have to check my diary to see when I could squeeze a visit to my parents in – which is ridiculous!!
“I think it’s nice to keep in touch with neighbours too, you never know how someone is really feeling, so just checking in with someone these days goes a long way and helps someone feel like they are not alone in how they are feeling. I have created specific WhatsApp groups for friends who have children and we all post if we are having a tough day with the kids and just need a ‘virtual hug’!” says Kristina.
“Mi ydw i’n gweld fy nheulu a ffrindiau gymaint fwy aml wan! Mi yda ni’n cael cwis wythnosol ac yn cadw cysylltaid dros whatsapp, just ‘check’-io fewn. O’n i’n arfer gweithio gymaint cyn lockdown, o’n i’n gorfod sbio yn y dyddiadur a gwasgu ymweliad gan fy rhieni mewn rywsut – sydd yn hollol hurt!
“Mae cadw mewn cysylltiad efo cymdogion yn bwysig hefyd, tyda ni byth yn gwbod sut mae rhywun yn teimlo go iawn, felly ma just holi sut mae rywun yn gallu g’neud i rywun deimlo nad ydi nhw ar ben ei hunain, mae unigrwydd yn ofnadwy. ‘Dw i ‘di creu grwp whatsapp efo ffrindiau sydd efo plant a mi yda ni’n postio ar hwnnw os yda ni’n cael diwrnod anodd efo’r plant er mwyn cael hyg ddigidol!”
Rural Communities in Lockdown
Rural communities have seen isolation reach a new level with the added boarder and 5-mile travel ban.
With some families living so remote that they must travel over the guideline of ‘5 miles’ to get such things as groceries, the lockdown has remained incredibly isolated even after some rules relaxed in England and Wales this month.
However, Kristina voiced,
“It’s hard for me to speak for all Welsh communities but I can say personally I am very glad that Wales are taking their own steps to keep the nation safe. I feel like we as a country are proud of our government for taking different measures, and feel that the Welsh communities are all doing what they can to help each other until we get to a safer time.
“I have found living in a rural area has most certainly been of benefit to me, having a lot of space to exercise in, and the feeling of isolation has been considerably less due to having the sea and mountains to look at during my daily walk. We all know just how lucky we are to be living in this corner of the world!”
“Mai’n anodd i mi ateb dros gymunedau gwledig Cymru, ond mi fedra i ddeud fy mod i’n falch iawn bod Cymru wedi rhoi polisiau ei hunan mewn lle i’n cadw ni’n ddiogel. Mi ddyla ni fod yn falch o’n llywodraeth am beidio a dilyn arweiniad Lloegr. Dyla ni fod yn falch o’n cymunedau am neud bob dim y gallen nhw i helpu bawb nes bod y cyfnod yma’n dod i ben.
“Yn bersonol mae byw mewn ardal gwledig yn golygu fy mod i ‘di cael digon o le i ymarfer corff, ac mae’r teimlad ynysig yn llai oherwydd fy mod i’n gal gweld y môr a’r mynyddoedd wrth gerdded yn lleol. Ma’ pawb yn gwbod pa mor lwcus yda ni i gal byw mewn ardal mor brydferth!”