We know that photography brings people together on Flickr and it’s always a delightful surprise to hear about long-lasting friendships and relationships that start here. Such is the story of Els and Gregory, two photographers with a penchant for self-portraiture and lifestyle photography. In 2018, they began corresponding on Flickr about each other’s photos. This virtual friendship eventually led them to meet in person and from there developed into something more.
Gregory remembers the day he rediscovered Els’ Photostream after a period away from Flickr. “I was surprised to see that she was still active and still taking incredible self-portraits,” he says. “I don’t know why but I felt the need to tell her that I loved her photos, so I wrote down: ‘send a mail to Els Vanopstal’ on a piece of paper that stayed on my desk for weeks until I decided, one evening, to write the mail. Els replied to it the next day, and we started communicating daily pretty quickly after that. And I remember waiting for her mail every evening and spending time writing one myself.”
Together since 2018, but living in separate countries (Els in Belgium and Gregory in France), the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to their seeing each other in the short-term. But being a couple of creative minds, they took this unfortunate situation as an opportunity to have some fun documenting their quarantine experience.
Gregory had just started a 30-day photo challenge when the lockdown became effective in France, and what had begun as another attempt to create a Youtube channel to show his creative process, ended up being a record of life in quarantine. The goal of his Con-Fine series, initially separate but soon part of his 30-day challenge, was to share a photo a day with Els, his long-distance girlfriend. “I had to come up with a name related to the situation, and confiné in French means confined. I don’t speak Italian at all, but I thought that ‘con fine‘ would mean ‘with an end.’ Maybe I’m totally wrong. I just wanted to keep in mind that there will be an end to this quarantine.” The constraints were significant: self-portraits, at home, every day. “The more limited you are, the more you have to dig to be creative and I think that’s a good exercise,” he says. The project, which ended May 11 with France beginning a gradual easing of its lockdown measures, is a collection of 55 self-portraits exploring what it is like to live through these unprecedented times.
Els, in turn, had already done some long-term self-portrait projects on Flickr in the past and encouraged Gregory to try a few on his own. This lockdown, she thought, was the perfect time to start a new self-isolation project. “It is good to have this daily thing to do to keep my mind focused on photography and creativity rather than on the news. It’s a fun way to keep in touch with some other Flickr members and hear their thoughts about the things that are happening,” Els says. “For me, inspiration really comes in waves. There are days that ideas come quickly, and apparently, out of nowhere. Other days, it’s a real struggle to find an idea to start with. I draw a lot of inspiration out of emotions, as well as music. Other times just looking at other people’s photos can trigger something in my brain to get me started as well.”
The two have been an inspiration for each other during this time of physical distancing, but they also admire the work that other Flickr members are doing. “Steven Skafte has been one of my favorite photographers on Flickr for a while and he posts almost daily documenting his life and thoughts. He has a poetic mind which is beautiful to see and read,” says Els. Gregory points us to another France-based photographer, Alexander J.E. Bradley, for some creative quarantine-related photography.
With COVID-19 still spreading, it’s difficult to predict when things will get back to “normal,” but learning to appreciate the everyday has been key for Els and Gregory, who will have another story to share when this is over. After all, what are the chances of two people from different countries meeting, falling in love, and photographing through a pandemic on Flickr?