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An RCM Woodwind student performs to classmates on Zoom

FeatureAutumn 2020

Photographing the world online: The Royal College of Music x Magnum Photos

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During nationwide lockdown in the UK, when all RCM teaching had moved online and hundreds of lessons were being delivered on Zoom, the RCM became part of an interesting and unusual project.

This year Thomas Dworzak, a photographer with Magnum Photos, launched a new and timely project. With no possibility of in-person photography or travel, Thomas turned instead to the explosion of online communication and connection and launched the ‘Covid-19 and the world online’ project.

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An RCM Woodwind Faculty Zoom session became Thomas’ subject for showing how musical education was continuing in this new virtual world. Oboe professor Juliana Koch invited Thomas into her Zoom class and Upbeat also interviewed Thomas about his project.

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Can you tell me about your Covid-19 lockdown photography project, its genesis and your vision for it?

When the pandemic hit and we went into lockdown, I decided that instead of going out, documenting the ‘real’ world, I would turn towards this new, digital world that was appearing and trying to photograph it.

What are you hoping to communicate with these photos and have the resulting images surprised you in any way?

On a straight, first level, just showing this new world was what I wanted to communicate. Trying to document it as good as can be and in a traditional way. I did find a ‘whole new universe’!

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Can you tell me about the other online events you photographed for this project? Did any particularly stand out?

...meetings, religious services, studies, meditation, yoga, dance, politics, protest…

Now, from the top of my head, a quaker silent zoom was one of the most beautiful and poetic ones.

At the RCM the priority during national lockdown was to ensure that students could continue to practise and learn together, even remotely. What were your thoughts on the Woodwind Faculty session you attended on Zoom, and did any particular moments strike you?

I loved it. I think it ‘works’. I think there is a beautiful dynamic of everyone facing the grid and the student that performs. The group dynamic definitely struck me.

How has your experience taking photos like this been – of a screen, and physically apart from your subjects?

It’s pretty weird. I get very close into people’s faces, but they don’t see me. It’s intimate and cold at the same time.

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This issue of Upbeat is all about creative ingenuity in the face of extraordinary circumstances. The classical music world is attempting to adapt and innovative to keep performance alive. Has your approach to creative work and collaboration changed, and does it feel like a permanent change?

I think there will be aspects that remain, even after, I hope, we go back to ‘normal’. I am watching and shooting quite a lot of Zoom theatre these days. It’s a very fascinating way.

How and why does one stay creative during these times?

To battle boredom. Isn’t that what creativity is?

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What are your plans for sharing this project, will you exhibit in a physical space and are there any plans to expand upon this work?

I am still shooting - it goes on longer than expected...

Somewhere in the back of my head is a book. Or at least something very, very physical. God forbid I have to look at more screens...

Thank you for having me!

Thomas Dworzak is a lauded photographer who has covered conflicts in Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan. His Covid-19 photography project has seen him act as press photographer for now-online events ranging from political summits to yoga classes and weddings.

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Annie Corser

Annie is the Editor of Upbeat magazine.