Picture This: Genesis

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Alys Tomlinson, Greg White, Vivek Vadoliya and more reflect on the theme of genesis

Looking forward, who will we become? Genesis is a beginning; the origin of something new . New beginnings hold potential.. We are not the same people we were last year as we grow and evolve in a constantly changing world. 

The future is what we make of it; looking back to help us look forward is one methodology of many. The new decade holds challenges we cannot yet see, along with those that already surround us. How we face those challenges, and who we will be when we do is yet to be decided.

We asked six photographers to respond to the theme of Genesis with image and text. Below, Alys Tomlinson, Greg White, Vivek Vadoliya, Etinosa Yvonne, Calvin Chow and Rochelle Nembhard present their responses.

Alys Tomlinson

We take a small fishing boat to explore the lagoon. I am in Venice in September 2019 starting work on a new project. The waves gently lap the sides of the boat, the sun begins to pierce the morning clouds. A stillness and quietness lingers in the damp air. As we approach the abandoned island, rocks scrape beneath the boat. Clambering out, overgrown grass and weeds wrap around our legs. The island is stuck in time, lonely and abandoned, crumbling into the water. We are walking on history. Memories of the past lie embedded in the earth under our feet. I sense a feeling of uncertainty, of being somewhere we shouldn’t. As I begin to unpack my camera, I look up and see only sky. A vast openness enveloping us as we try to record something of the past. To the right, steps lead up to the clouds and a doorway opens onto water, inviting us into a world of endless possibilities.


© Alys Tomlinson.

Calvin Chow

In 2020, I locked myself away from the world, I found refuge in the forest. Away from the concrete of Singapore, I learned to take in and treasure everything that surrounded me. Having lived next to a nature reserve all my life, I took the forest for granted.

Covid-19 has eliminated the past constructs of the workspace, and has brought about new perspectives on the way we deal with the world.

I’ve been thinking: What good are empty skyscrapers?

Right now, two forests in Singapore, the Clementi and Dover forests, are under threat. Shiny buildings will take their place, the kind that you see in your head when someone mentions Singapore. The environmental impact will include the loss of habitat for locally endangered animals like the blue-crowned hanging parrot and the Asiatic soft-shell turtle.

Returning to where we began will be a journey that will take our entire lives. To level the forest and build “eco-towns” will never be the solution. The genesis of our existence began with nature and will end in nature. Perhaps this extraordinary time was everything we needed to begin looking within and truly understand what matters most.


'The Forest as Refuge', Central Catchment Reserve, Singapore 2020 © Calvin Chow.

Etinosa Yvonne

It feels surreal that after 31 years on earth, I will finally have my own room and work space, things I have longed for for a long time. 

Since I began experimenting with the camera in 2017, I began to value my space more. The more I desired my space, the more it was out of reach for several reasons. 

2020 was my breaking point, the lockdown took a toll on me in different ways, it also heightened my desire for my own space and a place I could call home.

After weeks of searching for a new space with my eldest sister, we found a place. The minute we walked in, we knew we had found a home. We have lived together in different houses since 2016 but this was the first time we walked into a house that felt like ‘home’.

Here I am, sitting in this cramped room I have shared with my father since 2019. I am fantasising about what would be our new home in a few weeks. I am excited about the new experiences and moments I will have in my room, my space and more importantly, our new home. It is for me, a new beginning.


© Etinosa Yvonne.

Vivek Vadoliya

This year has been turbulent for us all. Some of us have thrived and managed to find a new purpose, while others have struggled to ride the emotional rollercoaster. We find ourselves at a point in history, politically, socially and environmentally of no return.

Arundhati Roy likened the pandemic to a portal. She says, “We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

I leave this decade with hope and optimism; I believe that we have so much to learn, but ultimately future generations have what it takes to build bridges between our divided nations and our broken landscapes. Here is my portrait of baby Eve, six months old when the photograph was taken. To me, she represents a symbol of hope, determination and strength. We have a choice about what wisdom we share with her, but she has the power to challenge what the new normal is!


Eve, 2020 © Vivek Vadoliya.

Greg White

The image looks toward Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham, London.  Known for the Tottenham riots of 1985 in which racial and police tensions heightened, the estate has garnered an unfavourable reputation as one of the worst places to live in the UK.  I took this picture one month before the killing of George Floyd when the UK was under lockdown due to Covid-19. I had been taking regular walks through the neighbouring Lordship recreation ground as seen in the foreground of the image and at the time the flighted crows represented the many people in lockdown or the many who were losing their lives or the many struggling with the situation we all found ourselves in. Two months later, I took part in a BLM march through the very same park and realised the image actually stood for much more than the situation with Covid-19.  The ‘Farm’ as it is commonly known was cheaply and badly built and following tests conducted in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster,  Haringey Council announced the evacuation of two of the blocks. Demolition of the estate is imminent, perhaps erasing its soured history while also attempting to build a new chapter of hope within this area of north London.


© Greg White.

Rochelle Nembhard

The image is part of a collaborative project with artist Gemma Shepherd, made in the chaotic solitude of 2020. It explores the relationship between women and rocks — the origin of life — Genesis. 

In Islam they say paradise lies at the feet of your mother, and that, upon death, your entry into heaven depends on the way you honour your mother, in whichever form that manifests , on  earth

South Africa currently faces two pandemics: Covid-19 and femicide (the incessant killing of women). These two intertwined realities demonstrate humanity’s imbalance with the Mother: Mother earth and Women, the life force from which we all begin our genesis on this planet. 

2020 has stripped us bare and exposed us to the reality that our current systems are broken. The collective death has made way for rebirth. Rebirth requires a return to the source where all life begins, to dream new worlds where we honour the sacredness of all life forms, thrive in unison and intentionally choose collaboration over competition.


@  ______gemma

© Rochelle Nembhard and Gemma Shepherd.

Explore more articles from the Then & Now Collection, currently in focus across 1854 & British Journal of Photography.

Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.