Documenting a disaster

The State Library of Western Australia is running a special project to document the community response to COVID-19, collecting material which reflects life during the pandemic.

Communications and Marketing Manager at the library, Charles Hayne, says this material can take almost any form, so long as it provides an insight into WA life in the coronavirus era.

“We want to be able to share, in the future, what the COVID-19 pandemic looked like for West Australians. What did it feel like for West Australians during the great COVID-panic of 2020?” Mr Hayne said.

Charles Hayne on the purpose of the COVID-19 collection drive. Photo: Louise Miolin

Mr Hayne says the library has commissioned photographers to take images of things like empty streets during isolation, people in line to be tested for COVID-19, and animals wandering through popular tourist precincts.

As well as professional photographers, the library is seeking contributions from the general public.

The State Library’s call out for collections. Image: State Library of Western Australia, via Facebook.

All materials collected will be documented and uploaded to a digital archive which is free to access.

Perth photographer Lana Pratt‘s Porch Project series has been submitted as part of the drive.

The series shows Perth families in COVID-19 isolation, and was shot by Ms Pratt from a distance.

Some images from The Porch Project by Lana Pratt.

Ms Pratt says photography is an important tool to document history as it happens.

“There’s photos we look at now of historical events, like now people are looking for photos of the Spanish flu … so these photos [from today] become really important, because people will want to look back and get an insight into what this time actually looked like,” she says.

Ms Pratt says even though people take more photos on their smartphones today than ever before, the value of these photos as historical archives is often lost.

“Because we take so many throwaway images, we don’t take the care to archive them properly,” she says.

Ms Pratt says it is important to document the life of everyday people, and recommends printing out photos to preserve them for future generations.

Lana Pratt says its important to take photos and preserve them, even if they aren’t ‘perfect’, because they document everyday life. Photo: Lana Pratt.

Associate Professor in Internet Studies at Curtin University, Tama Leaver, says as well as traditional photography and print media, any archive of life during COVID-19 should include social media content.

Tama Leaver teaches Internet Studies at Curtin University. Photo: Tama Leaver.

“I can’t imagine making a record of COVID-19 for Australia without including a bunch of Tiktoks, for example,” Professor Leaver says.

Professor Leaver says any archive of 2020 should include Tiktoks. Video: Jezzadinh, via Tiktok.

Assoc. Professor Leaver says the importance of internet culture is widely accepted in academic circles, and people understand the value of documenting and studying memes, tweets, and Instagram posts as part of modern society.

“We need to pay attention to the way that the internet shapes our cultural experience,” he says.

Assoc. Professor Leaver says platforms like Facebook can limit access to old posts, making it difficult to collect internet-based content for historical archives.

He says it is important to record and preserve social media content as it happens.

Lighthearted social media posts provide an insight into life during Covid-19. Images: Michael1979, via Twitter.

Mr Hayne from the State Library says the COVID-19 collection drive does not yet include many snapshots of internet culture, because many people who interact with the library are older citizens.

“We would love to see some of that stuff, and we encourage young people to send it in,” he says.

All kinds of materials are welcome for the collection drive. Image: Louise Miolin.

To contribute to the drive, follow this link.