A photo essay on consumerism

From the late 1930s through to mid 1950s, Picture Post magazine was the UK’s equivalent of the very popular Life Magazine that was sold in America and Paris Match that was produced for the French market. All of these magazines had one thing in common – the photo essay.

These magazines were image rich, representing a new way of engaging audiences that were turned-off by text-heavy newspapers. What’s more, the images were created by some of the best photographers in the world at the time.

Sadly the photo essay is no longer popular. We write blogs and illustrate them with images we can grab online or from image libraries. The idea of setting out to tell a visual story supported by a limited amount of text doesn’t sit well with our fast-paced, instant gratification culture. But that hasn’t deterred me.

Building on the project Unsustainable, I wanted to be in London on June 15th to witness the response to ‘non-essential’ shops re-opening.


The Shops Re-open

June 15th 2020 and after twelve weeks of lockdown the government has finally allowed shops selling non-essential items, such as clothes and jewellery, to re-open.

Preparations had begun two weeks earlier with new signage, barriers, and the widening of footpaths to ensure social distancing along Oxford and Regent Streets.

Commentators questioned whether people would want to visit the high street, after all, most of the retailers have online shops and Covid-19 has not disappeared.

One retail analyst was quoted as saying: “The pause for reflection that consumers are making at the moment could lead to a reassessment of what’s important. If I have sat here for the last three months and I haven’t bought a new pair of shoes or a handbag maybe it wasn’t as important as I thought it was?”

And yet well before the doors opened, the queues started to form.

Social distancing, seemed to be a distant memory.
consumerism was alive and well

Within just a few hours of the shop doors re-opening it was clear that consumerism was alive and well and our lust for stuff had not abated during lockdown.

Within a few weeks of lockdown we were celebrating clean air, clear coastal waters, seeing and hearing wildlife, and, it seemed, reflecting on the important things in life, such as health, friends and family. There was even talk of a greener economic recovery that would prioritise the environmental gains already made, over finance.

But were we kidding ourselves?

As creatures of habit, addicted to consuming and surrounding ourselves with 'things', can we ever change, or are we destined to literally, shop till we drop?