Consett Corona Photo Project: interview with George Ledger Part 2

Key workers
Shotley Bridge, Co. Durham, ENGLAND -9th June 2020: Corona virus Lockdown images, General images taken of Key Workers, Durham County Council Refuse Department workers at Shotley Bridge, Co. Durham, ENGLAND (Photo by George Ledger Photography)

Beautiful photographs

I suggest that the photo is absolutely beautiful. The pandemic has had few positive aspects, but one of them certainly is the appreciation for those wonderful workers who built this country up and keep it running each and every day. And this photograph shows the rightful pride key workers should have in what they do, and also demonstrates the infectivity of George’s passion, which adds to the beauty of this photograph.

And this beauty extends also to a photo which I came across while going through the project’s Facebook page. It shows parishioners standing outside their local church after hearing the sound of the church bells ringing for the first time in over a year, with smiles so large that they practically split their faces in two. I recalled the feeling of overwhelming joy when, while walking through my local estate a few months ago, the sound of church bells ringing broke the surrounding silence, and seemed to inspire the birds in their songs. I wish so much that I could be Blake for a little while, just to describe the feeling of insuperable joy and happiness upon hearing something which I had never really listened to in my life. I am reminded of those lines from Blake’s poem The Echoing Green,

“The skylark and thrush
The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around
To the bells’ cheerful sound”.
Bell ringers
Shotley Bridge, Co. Durham, ENGLAND -23rd May 2021: Corona virus Lockdown images, General images taken of St Cuthberts Church Shotley Bridge Bell Ringers, Shotley Bridge, Co. Durham, ENGLAND (Photo by George Ledger Photography)

Biking Santas

George had one last story. That of a man, a farmer and biker, whose son tragically died of a brain tumour. Every Christmas he and his friends would dress up as Santa Claus and drive round the children’s homes to deliver presents. This all stopped as a result of the lockdown, but he was not prepared to not raise money. So he started making sculptures.

“In the summer it is biking-Vikings, in the winter it is ‘biking-Santas’. So they started making sculptures of Vikings out of tree trunks, and other people started making jewellery. They couldn’t go out and visit people, but they had constructed something to carry on because they were determined to continue making money for the charity. So there have been some great experiences.”

Insights from the pandemic

These experiences include the brief but powerful insights that George has gained into the sacrifices and hard work so many people have made during this pandemic. He is in awe of the teachers, the dentists, those working in the vaccination clinics, and is proud to have helped share and feel these experiences.

“To almost feel what they’re going through. I’m struggling taking a photograph [while] wearing glasses and a face mask, and somebody is there in full PPE and sweating during the height of summer. And to experience a little bit of this is a great insight.

An exhibition in the future

It is hoped that these insights, along with the hundreds of stories and moments George has recorded, will be displayed at an exhibition event. With the restrictions beginning to loosen, and George’s project coming to its end, I asked whether there was any news on this exhibition, or at the least some hints about where and when.

The pub opens
A further relaxation of measures on May 17 allowed various premises to reopen, including public houses. Graham, the landlord of the Scotch Arms, Blackhill, pulls the pub’s first pint on Monday since 4 November. Graham and his partner Louise have been keeping things going by supplying takeaway Sunday Dinners, with Louise and her daughter delivering them to local people who could not get to the pub.

“There has nothing been announced as yet. We photographed two local vicars, on separate occasions, and with both I had the same conversation at the end – that they would love to see the photographs. I said that I will send them via email, but they both said ‘no, all the photographs.’”

George mentioned that the project was self-financed and that he therefore did not think he would be able to afford such an exhibition – a venue alone would be too much.

“They said, ‘you don’t have to hire a hall, we’ve got one right here’ [the church].”

He has since been back and casually reminded them of their earlier suggestion. “You did mention this…” And they both were true to their word. (I had no doubts.)

“So, yes, we will definitely be having two exhibitions in the two churches.”

After this George turns and reaches for something hidden off camera. An A2 photograph manifests in front of the camera. It is a brilliant image of a paramedic standing proudly before the rear of an ambulance, with the arresting design of the red and yellow “stay home” slogan framing the photograph. Full of enthusiasm, George informs me that he has just been to the printers today.

“This is for an outdoor exhibition. There is a local end-of-life hospice, about five miles away, and I photographed the nurses and the charity around the hospice. And the gardens are tremendous. So we thought we could put some boards in the garden and have a long-term exhibition. So it kills two birds with one stone. Obviously for people to see the photos, but also to buy a cup of coffee and support the charity.”

All this is very exciting. And I personally cannot wait for the opportunity to go and view these photographs in ‘real life’. On the question of when, however, George is reticent. The artist within him has risen and it is now he who is speaking. Martin Amis said that it takes years before an great event can be written about with any emotional clarity, and George shares a similar feeling,

“I think the photographs become more interesting the longer we are back to normality. So I don’t want to do too much this year. But the local academy have already said they’d love to have full access to the images – which they will – and they will incorporate into future lessons. But they’re talking five years, ten years down the road.”

Home schooling
Home-schooling. A child being supported by her parent while conducting ‘Zoom lessons’. Even after March 8, when schools officially reopened, many children have continued to be home-schooled due to their ‘bubbles bursting’. “Parents have re-learned things they never knew that they had forgotten! Who knew there were even things called ‘preposition phrases’ Or ‘fronted adverbials’?” Certainly not this writer…
“This image also demonstrates how all of our photographs have been taken within the rules. We have photographed through windows and while wearing masks, and walked to take photos locally during our daily permitted exercise,” George recollects.

But George tells me that he has made one mistake. “Living in Consett.” It sounds like an honest enough mistake and is certainly forgivable. Consett does not have a gallery or a museum, so any larger exhibitions will have to be in Durham or Bishop Auckland.

“If it becomes interesting, depending on how people react to it, with the local exhibitions, the photographs are there, and we can hold further exhibitions in the future.”

More photographers

And a final couple of things before we wrapped up. George mentions that he has got some slight (with great emphasis on this word), slight funding from the community arts team at the county council – enough to pay for the boards at the very least. And when the third lockdown was announced in January of this year, he realised that he was going to need some help. He enlisted the help of three photographers.

“Debbie is currently doing a degree in photography. A very proficient photographer, very keen. The other two are Chris and Steve. One is a retired teacher, one a fireman, both with just an interest in photography. Again, they’ve all come on board and loved the idea, loved the concept, and have taken little instruction and just gone out and taken the photographs. So it is a four-person team now, and certainly they’ll all be a great help when we get to the exhibition stage as well.”

Our thanks to George Ledger for sharing his experiences and for the wonderful work he and his team have done. As soon as we have confirmation of any dates and locations for exhibitions, both indoor and outdoor, we shall let you know. Check out the photographs on the Facebook page ‘Consett Corona Photo Project’ in the meantime. Share with us your favourites.

The first exhibition starts on Monday 26th July at Willowburn Hospice Cafe Gardens (Maiden Law, Lanchester from 10am – 4.30pm

Mon – Sat for 3 weeks ending on Friday 13th Aug.
It is all outdoors in the hospices gardens.

You can read part 1 here.

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