‘By day it was bacchanalian, at dusk otherworldly’

Parklife: Danielle and Iyanna, 2020, by Sophia Spring

I began my series Parklife, a love letter to London’s green spaces, back in 2019, but with a baby daughter and commissioned work to juggle, found little time to focus on it. Last summer, as all my professional work completely disappeared and the world came to a standstill, was a perfect time to pick it up again.

The River Lea runs through Hackney marshes, in London. During the day, the area felt bacchanalian – lots of flesh, music and drinking – but at dusk, it took on a magical, otherworldly quality. This was shot in June. The weather had been beautiful but things still were quite green. Danielle and her daughter Iyanna had been on the marshes all day, with friends, paddling, relaxing. It was sunset and they were packing up to go home. I had first spotted one of their friends – drawn by her amazing pink hair – and was talking to her when I saw these two on the river bank standing almost exactly in this very pose, perfectly framed. Don’t move! I said.

This is one of my favourite shots from the whole series. I love its gentle and timeless quality. Those early summer months of lockdown felt like a special time as people flocked to their local parks for a little respite from the monotony of lockdown. I believe passionately in the healing abilities of nature. Studies have shown how being near trees and open spaces can reduce cortisol levels and bring down blood pressure. Last year we all found ourselves suffering from a kind of collective anxiety and depression, and I think we intuitively flocked to these green spaces seeking comfort and calm. (IT)

‘I could see him having so much fun’

Shark Attack, 2018, by Angieszka Marcuszczyk

Shark Attack.

The weather is becoming increasingly unpredictable in our region of Wielkopolska (Greater Poland). It’s an area that has historically been home to many lakes. Now we’re seeing some start to dry up, a major problem and a consequence of climate change. As temperatures go up, though, us locals are still making the most of them. They are places to escape to at the heat’s height, when temperatures can hit 40C.

It was one of those sweltering summer weekends in 2018 when my husband, son and I drove down to Powidz Lake from our home in Poznań. At more than 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres), it’s one of the country’s cleanest and largest. We parked up and walked down. The beach was busy, as was the water.

My son is an only child; he brought this huge inflatable shark along for company. I could see him having so much fun with it as he swam, throwing it in the air and making up games with it. There was so much going on all around him, but he found his own fun.

That’s when I got my camera out. Not that it’s unexpected – I’ve been photographing Jan since he was a little boy. This picture is part of a series called Boyhood. I’m photographing his childhood from a mother’s perspective. And neither this place – nor this moment – were particularly special. It was one day of many. And in childhood, I think, that is what summer is about. (MS)

‘She’s a lawyer, working from home’

Alexandra, 2020, by Olivia Harris

Alexandra Caddy, is a lawyer. She’s on secondment from her company and is working from home. ‘I don’t want to sit in the park, but this feels ok.’

As the UK hunkered down for its first national lockdown last year, London enjoyed a stunning early summer. Like many city dwellers, I took to my bike to enjoy the empty roads. As I cycled around east London, I noticed people had colonised spaces that are never occupied otherwise – areas between their front door and their gate, or little patches of the road outside their homes. Front yards became makeshift offices, sunseekers embraced the concrete, and neighbours gathered in the streets for cold beers and birthday celebrations.

There was a dreaminess to it all. You could hear the birds – there were no planes, no traffic, no music – and everyone suddenly had time, masses and masses of time. People were scared and fearful, but they were also coming together .

I wanted to capture what was happening. I loaded my camera equipment into my panniers and cycled north to Tottenham and down as far south as the river and Tower Hamlets – to photograph a broad spectrum of people and of building backgrounds. I cycled round one corner and there was Alexandra, stretched across her front steps. She’s a lawyer but was working from home. “I don’t want to sit in the park, but this feels OK,” she said.

Everyone I shot was really welcoming. I think everyone was so isolated in those months that they craved connection. The project has become an exhibition and now a book that feels like a time capsule – a glimpse back at a unique moment. We’re normally such a busy city you can’t get five seconds with somebody, but last summer, everyone had time to talk. (IT)

Days on Repeat is at Haggerston Park, E2 8NG until 5 August, order the book at olivia-harris.co.uk.

‘It felt like a modern-day Eden’

Down by the Hudson Watering Hole Three Boys Floating, 2018, by Caleb Stein

Down by the Hudson Watering Hole Three Boys Floating.

The watering hole in Poughkeepsie, upstate New York, is on the outskirts of town next to the movie drive-in theatre and across the bank from the American Legion. You can’t get more American than that, and the town is typical of so many small US towns struggling with post-industrial decline. In the 2016 election it was neck and neck between Trump and Clinton, and that sense of tension was palpable in the years following.

This watering hole offered this amazing counterpoint to all that. It felt like a modern-day Eden. Everything softens. People from a wide range of backgrounds go there during the summer. It’s a place where they let their guard down and relax, barbecue, play and swim. It’s not that everyone immediately becomes best friends, but they acknowledge each other’s presence as human beings and treat each other with respect.

These kids are Matthew, Jackson and Oden. They reminded me of my brothers. I like to make photographs that could have been taken 100 years ago, or tomorrow. There’s something about black and white that immediately gets us into the mindset of memory. It has become a sort of shorthand for the past, and for me it’s a way of updating and revisiting the mythology of the small American town. (IT)

‘People gather to worship the pagan gods’

Latvian midsummer, 2006, by Espen Rasmussen

Naked revellers participate in a pagan ritual during celebrations for the Midsummer festival.

Midsummer is big in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries. Here in Norway we light fires and sing and dance. For Latvians, the summer solstice is one of the most important events of the year. The longest day and shortest night are marked with a national holiday, as people gather to worship the pagan gods through rituals, music, eating and drinking. I went to a small town in Latvia to capture the summer solstice festival one year. Everyone takes part – young and old.

According to tradition, the shortest night of the year must be spent staying awake. As the sun set, we gathered on a hilltop in front of a huge bonfire. The women carried herbs collected from the forest; many people were dressed in traditional costumes, some with garlands in their hair. At midnight the men took off their clothes, lit their torches and processed down to the water’s edge. There was a raft on the shore that was set alight and the men waded out into the lake carrying their torches, as the burning vessel drifted out into the deeper water. I was shooting using just the brightness of the fires and what little light there was – that night it never gets truly dark. Being naked was not something anyone was self-conscious about, it’s simply part of what they do every year.

Returning back up the hill, the men dressed, and the dancing and feasting continued into the night and as the sun rose. The festival may be named Jāņi after St John, but, like midsummer celebrations across Europe, it has deep and ancient pagan roots that honour the sun, the coming harvest, fertility and nature herself. (IT)

‘People can relate to her emotional turmoil’

Pregnant friend by Lauren Withrow

Pregnant girl drinking beer.

I’m from a really small town in Texas. It’s not a place I ever felt I belonged – it’s very southern, very conservative. But in my late 20s I went back to be with my mom, who was dealing with some health issues, and, returning I felt that I wanted to better understand where I came from. I became good friends with a group of people and documented them in what I call their natural state. They knew me as the friend who took cool photos; at some times they could be performative, almost comic, but this photo was different.

It was late one night when two girlfriends and I were hanging out at a pool drinking beers. Nobody was around and we didn’t have swim clothes with us so we decided to go naked. The scene felt – and looks – hedonistic, but I didn’t know at the time that my friend was pregnant, and very confused and conflicted about it. Had I known I would have had reservations about taking the photo – it makes you read the image completely differently, and maybe some will condemn her recklessness in drinking beer – but I’m glad I did as I think people can relate to her emotional turmoil. She was only 20 or 21, not from a wealthy background, and she just wanted to live her life – instead she was having to deal with this incredibly difficult situation. (IT)

‘“This is the real life,” they said, leaning back and smoking’

Sunbathers at Chipiona, 2021, by Emilio Morenatti

People sunbathe at sunset in a beach in Chipiona, a town and municipality located on the Atlantic coast in the province of Cadiz, Spain.

There had been a horrible wind all day in Cádiz, so I had found a sheltered beachin Chipiona, a small town popular with locals. While most of the beaches in the area are golden and blissful, the rocks are more dramatic here.

I was on holiday, but that doesn’t stop your eye seeing something. As the light dropped and dusk approached, I noticed the colours were really special: dark ground and water’s reflection; bright side light from the slowly setting sun. The scene felt cinematic, or like an oil painting. Thankfully, on holiday or not, I carry my camera at all times.

I went over to these three women to say hello. “We are enjoying ourselves; this is the real life,” said one, leaning back and smoking. I told them I was from Barcelona. That’s not the real life, she replied.

She puffed; we talked. Turns out she had spent plenty of time in Catalonia. From what she had heard about the unrest around independence, she had assumed my city was a war zone now. I assured her it’s safe, that I live the life, too. (MS)

‘My son confidently walked into the frame and threw the sheet aside’

Hasselbald self-portrait with my son, 2014, by Ash Adams

Hasselbald self-portrait with my son, Elliott Adams.

Anchorage summers are manic and magical. For over a month, the sun does not set; twilight holds over until the next sunrise, just a few hours after sunset. We mark the light because in Alaska, we live by the seasons. Flowers bloom; the city remarks on the appearance of fireweed and cotton. Warmth brings freedom, emergence. In summer, we shed winter’s layers and open the doors and windows, and every light hour feels like a calling.

This self-portrait, part of an ongoing body of work called You Are the Color of Memory, is one I made during my pregnancy with my daughter. When looking at this image now – my son and my pregnant silhouette, both naked on a balcony in the Alaskan summertime – I’m glad that my son so confidently walked into the frame and threw the sheet aside, although that was certainly unplanned. For me, the boldness of his gesture remarks on the intimacy of raising young children and how little stands between us, which is something I was looking to convey about the pregnancy itself along with the mystery of it all.

My children, now six and nine, and I are in the height of another Alaskan summer, planning for fish and spending long days half-dressed in the mudflats. This summer, like others, has the quality of revival and return. Especially after the past year, which was difficult both personally and globally and during which I experienced a pregnancy loss with devastating after-effects, we are basking in the freedom of the season together. (Ash Adams)