With nearly 300 images and still going, Mountain of Salt chronicles the sentiment of the unprecedented events of last year.
Bindi Vora and her partner were on holiday in Morocco when Covid-19 first hit the UK; just before the national lockdown was announced in March 2020, they were supposed to be making their way home. That made for a nightmarish trip, with borders closing faster than flights were leaving and chaotic scenes at the airport. Eventually they made it back and went into self-imposed quarantine; soon both succumbed to what they now think were (relatively) mild symptoms of the virus. “It took a long time to recover,” says Vora. “It was a sickness and fatigue we have never experienced before.”
“I suppose I am interested in how this very, very distinct moment that we are experiencing will resonate and shape each one of us – as we all live in the hope of clambering out and making it to the other side unscathed.”
While isolating, Vora, who studied photographic arts at the University of Westminster, was following the pandemic closely and she became interested in the language being used around it in news stories, government advice, online memes, and by individuals. She began to write down key words and phrases, charting the “incredibly triggering” snippets entering our language as we sailed into unknown territory. Soon she started pairing these images with another archive she had been building, a collection of vintage prints found in flea markets and via eBay over the last 10 years. As the project got underway, she sourced new material online under the same impulse – searching for the strange resonance developing between this very new situation and the decades-old imagery.
“It was really about highlighting the sentiment that these moments, these ideas, these visuals that were being conjured in my mind, had happened before,” she says. “The images vary in terms of their finish and age – some were early stereoscopes, others were Polaroids, some medium format prints, and press photographs – but all were markers of time and a moment. By applying the same treatment, cropping them to the same size, a sense of uniformity was created where language and image could sit in tandem with one another.”
Some of the combinations are satirical, some provocative, others very literal – her exact reaction, she says, depended “on how ludicrous the comment was and how we were being told to respond to it”. Over time the project expanded to include language surfacing from other extraordinary events over 2020, such as the Black Lives Matter protests and the placards people took along to them.
From the start, Vora overlaid squares and circles on the images in various sizes and colours. These shapes are meant to direct your gaze but also tap into some of the symbolism at work in the text, she says – the circle is a symbol of unity and togetherness, for example, suggested by the notions of collective responsibility pushed in the first month of lockdown. The colours and sizes were more intuitive – she noticed that in early summer she began using brighter, more vibrant shades, whereas, moving into a bleak winter, she strayed more into blue.
Vora has now made well over 300 images and is still going; she’s named the project Mountain of Salt, which is intended to evoke the idea of a continual upward climb that is at constant risk of collapse. “I suppose I am interested in how this very, very distinct moment that we are experiencing will resonate and shape each one of us,” she says. “As we all live in the hope of clambering out and making it to the other side unscathed.”
Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy