Continuing our series looking at the day-to-day working practices of disabled artists, photographer Pete Carr gives us a photo journal of a lockdown day for him.
My name is Pete Carr. I am an architectural and portrait photographer based in Merseyside, UK. I was diagnosed as autistic two years ago.
This ‘day in the life’ is set on my 12th day of social isolation during the pandemic.
Today starts with me picking up my camera, swapping the battery to a fresh one and formatting the memory card. This is my new morning routine. This is me washing away yesterday and accepting today is a blank slate. Yesterday’s memories are erased from the camera and I’m ready to make some new ones. Good ones? Well… Life is complex so who knows.
My “start the day” routine is as follows;
• Put toast on
• Check the cats have food and water
• Empty the cat litter trays
• Water the flowers
• Eat toast
• Have coffee
• Do the washing up
• Brush my teeth
• Get dressed
I inevitably forget a few items on this list because of executive function disorder. One day I’ll make that to-do list that has everything on it because things just fall out my head. The radio broadcaster reminds me of “unprecedented times” and I tell myself it’s OK to not be perfect.
My morning routine is simple. If I had to start the day with a multitude of decisions I wouldn’t be able to function. I would be exhausted by 9 am. ‘Spoon theory’ is the idea that we have a limited number of spoons to use through the day. I can’t afford to waste energy on breakfast choices or what I’m wearing. So I have ‘Default Choices’. If I’m presented with an array of breakfast choices what is my default? What is my safe, no thought required option? If it is there I eat that and save a “spoon” for later.
• Pint of water.
• Wool jumper.
Even my camera is set up to remove as many options as possible. It is normally set so I have control over everything. Today the only thing I have control over is the exposure compensation which I set to -1 for a consistent look across my pandemic photographs. I remove choices and just take photos. I limit myself to 36 photos so I don’t have any issues choosing the ones that reflect my day. It is all about helping me capture something when I see it without creating a workload for myself each day.
As I head upstairs to get dressed something catches my eye. A bit of light coming through the front door. It is nothing and yet something. All I’m doing is playing with light and shadow. I like the way the soft light just hits that single spot and lights up a mundane piece of design. I take a photo. My camera is always with me as it was before the pandemic. It is my voice.
I go see how the cats are doing. Starbuck is sat by the front window sunbathing. She looks up. I take a photo.
An hour later I shop. One shopper at a time. I went for a sausage roll, pasty and two treats. Easy. I had already done the mental processing and decision making beforehand. All I had to do was pick up and pay. The treats I went in for weren’t there. I texted my wife to see what alternative she wanted. No reply. She’s busy with work. “OK” I think and try to decide. Cookie or brownie? I can’t make that decision. Why am I making that decision? What if I get it wrong? The woman behind the counter asks “Is that it?” I can’t decide. I stall. I circle the room. People are waiting outside. The women is waiting to take payment. More people arrive. I can’t think. Too many variables. I can’t decide. It’s an impossible choice. No-one should have to decide between a cookie or a brownie! What if the brownie is dry or the cookie isn’t chocolatey enough? It’s too much! I stall again, ask for a cookie and go “Hmmmm….” I get a reply from my wife asking for brownie. I order brownie, pay and leave. I just about keep it together in the car. I’m on the verge of tears. I’m on the verge of an autistic meltdown. I sit and breathe for a short time.
Driving home I notice the Mersey Ferries car park is now empty. It’s normally full at this time of day. No-one commutes across the river to Liverpool any more. As someone who works from home, it is hard to see the impact of lockdown. This is the closest I have come to seeing that reality.
I return home from the shop and put lunch on. I notice my hands seem old now. Is it all the washing?
I spend the afternoon writing my weekly newsletter. I use writing as a way of processing thoughts. I hope that my perspective is interesting for people to read. At the very least, by the time I’m finished, I feel a bit better for getting the thought out my head.
Dinner. I cook my wife and I steak, mushrooms and rice. While I cook I notice a hat and a pair of shades have made a silly face on the counter. I take a photo. While today has been exhausting I’m glad that I’m a photographer because it is a discipline that has focused my unconscious mind to notice the little things. Sometimes those little things can be all you need to get by. A silly face grinning at you without judgment, the worry of social distancing or even the worry of social niceties. Just a silly face making me laugh.
The day ends with me selecting my favourite photos and an attempt to forgive myself for having a meltdown over a brownie.