Derbyshire snapper's amazing photos shine 'uplifting' light on isolation

A photo from Tony Fisher's exhibition Only The Lonely, which explores isolation, loneliness and well-being.A photo from Tony Fisher's exhibition Only The Lonely, which explores isolation, loneliness and well-being.
A photo from Tony Fisher's exhibition Only The Lonely, which explores isolation, loneliness and well-being.

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A Derbyshire photographer’s ‘uplifting’ scenes of isolation have earned him national recognition.

Tony Fisher, 66, of Riddings, set about taking portraits and nature photographs exploring the themes of loneliness and isolation before the pandemic, and allowed the project to evolve as lockdown meant that the issues he was focusing on were experienced by people all over the country.

He was initially travelling nationwide to take photographs, but Tony’s work took a more local turn as restrictions were imposed.

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Photographer Tony FisherPhotographer Tony Fisher
Photographer Tony Fisher

The resulting photographs, collected together under the name ‘Only The Lonely’, have been widely praised, earning Tony an honourable mention in the Worldwide Photography Gala Awards and inclusion in Historic England’s national lockdown photography collection.

And in spite of their subject matter often being considered sad, Tony has spoken about how the ongoing project ‘helped’ and ‘uplifted’ both himself and his subjects, as well as giving him a new insight into how some poeple find isolation a positive experience.

Tony said: “It has been great for my mental health during lockdown, going out to take these photographs and getting to meet wonderful people.

"And I have had a lot of support from other people involved, who have said that it has kept them going and they are looking forward to seeing the work in exhibitions.”

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Tony’s idea for the exhibition that focused on loneliness was successfully pitched to the Arts Council in order to get funding in April 2019.

His early work on the project saw him travelling south to Burnham-On-Sea, where he interviewed and photographed the founders of the ‘Happy to Chat Bench’, were people can sit and have conversations with strangers.

He also visited cafes and other benches as part of this aspect of his project.

Since lockdown restricted Tony – who lives in sheltered housing in Derbyshire – to staying closer to home, he photographed the Belper Moo much closer to home, which saw residents of the town mooing like cows in unison as a way to bond, keep company and amuse eachother while isolating.

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Tony’s photos have also covered people’s personal struggles with isolation during lockdown.

He explained: “For my portraits I would get people to hold objects that brought them hope or had helped keep them occupied during lockdown.

"I took one photo of a lady who had not left her house for 13 weeks.

This insight into people’s experiences of isolation opened Tony’s eyes to the different aspects of solitude – including positive ones.

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"I also learned that some people enjoy solitude and are used to being on their own, and they did not find it too difficult. But then I met people who found it very hard,” Tony said.

"It was important not to go into it with a preconceived idea,” he added.

Tony’s interest in the topic if isolation came from experiences of "extreme loneliness” he had experienced following a string of tradgedies he experienced in the 1990s.

“I started living on my own 20-odd years ago,” Tony said. “My wife died young from motor neurone disease, and then my father died from cancer and my mother passed away, all within weeks of eachother.

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"So I have experienced isolation for quite a long period of time.

"I try to be a positive person, so these photographs tried to bring some positivity to people’s isolation.”

Tony’s experiences with mental health, including depression, PTSD and anxiety, as well as his work with numerous mental health charities, stood him in good stead for working with people struggling with isolation and using his photography to forge relationships and help people, as well as understand them.

He said that lockdown definitely took its toll on many people’s mental health and increased loneliness.

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"The charities I help with have said that the photographs are definitely helping people,” Tony said. “The feedback I have had has been than people are benefitting.”

Only The Lonely can be seen at a number of locations, including Royal Derby Hospital, the Erewash Gallery in Ilkeston and The Arthouse in Wakefield.

Details of the exhibitions will be posted on Tony’s Facebook page.