Hackney photographer captures lockdown 'park life'

Park Life book

Flora and Chloe Hackney Downs part of Park Life - Credit: Sophia Spring

Moments of serenity and community amid the chaos of a global pandemic are captured in a new book by Hackney photographer Sophia Spring.

Hackney Downs, Hackney Marshes, Hampstead Heath, Springfield Park, Golders Hill Park, Highgate Woods, and Primrose Hill all feature in Park Life. (Hoxton Press £18.95)

Hackney Marshes Daniella and Iyana

Hackney Marshes Daniella and Iyana - Credit: Sophia Spring

Subtitled 'a love letter to London's green spaces' the project came about when the portrait photographer's shoots "evaporated" at the first lockdown. With a young daughter to look after she says: "I found myself effectively a 1950s housewife doing meal plans. For my own sanity I took my heavy old Hasselblad camera and went out on my bicycle in the lighter evenings and during her lunchtime naps."

Not working to a deadline or a brief she approached park users to capture their first dates, family meet-ups, yoga classes and swimming parties.

Sara and Rei London Fields

Sara and Rei London Fields - Credit: Sophia Spring

"I was doing it for the joy of it, at a time when you were only seeing your family or flat mates it was a way of interacting with people, making a connection and having a conversation with a stranger."

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Like many, Spring became more aware of her local area throughout 2020.

"I have lived close to Hackney Marshes for years but hadn't really explored it until lockdown. Like many Londoners I discovered these amazing spaces on my doorstep - most people do the same commute every day and their weekends are limited to one park. But I had a 14 month old and had to get out of the house. I looked at a map and realised there were all these places I had never been to within a mile or two."

Park Life

Natalia Springfield Park, Hackney - Credit: Sophia Spring

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Her favourites are Abney Cemetery and Springfield Park "on a high bit of land that slopes down to the canal with a beautiful view over Walthamstow Marshes".

"I found myself appreciating nature more," she adds. "I had spent my entire life in London and never appreciated the variety of trees or green spaces. The Japanese idea of forest bathing or nature therapy is that standing surrounded by trees calms your nervous system and reduces cortisol levels. During Covid we were suffering from a collective anxiety and our instincts were to go outside into nature. I found it so reassuring watching the unfolding of spring. As the world was in turmoil it came just the same as every year and you felt 'this is just a blip'."

LEE VALLEY PARK, E5 - Nancy, Katie, Lolly, Kieran, Holly, Hope, Scott, Louis & Zahrah

LEE VALLEY PARK, E5 - Nancy, Katie, Lolly, Kieran, Holly, Hope, Scott, Louis & Zahrah - Credit: Sophia Spring

Of all the people she approached, Spring got "less than ten 'nos.'"

"Older people were much jumpier, but the younger generation used to being in front of a camera were great. I emailed them afterwards and some really lovely uplifting memories about parks came back."

In his introduction, Islington-based author David Nicholls who is a keen canal walker said: "This is a portrait of a city that now, as I write, is stepping outside again after a long winter, revisiting friends and family, eating, drinking, flirting, celebrating, a city that is at its liveliest not on its streets but in its scuffed, scrappy, beautiful green spaces."

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