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The big picture: Valentin Goppel captures his friends’ lives in limbo during lockdown

The 23-year-old German photographer Valentin Goppel began making photographs of his bubble of flatmates in Hanover at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. The project, documenting the disorienting feel of “life in the time of corona” was a way to pass the time and a psychological necessity. Goppel and his friends were at that in-between age of transition into adulthood when the virus put a hold on their lives. University was closed, there was nowhere to gather inside, and they retreated to the shapeless world of online learning and outdoor meeting. His book Zwischen den Jahren (“Between the years”) – is a record of that unmooring.

This picture, of friends together and not together, their faces lit by phone screens, expresses the dislocated mood. The blank wall on the edge of the scrubby parkland has the aimless and furtive character of many of Goppel’s pictures as restrictions shifted and anxiety undid purpose: why here? And what happens next?

“Covid pulled the rug from under my feet and revealed there was no solid ground beneath it,” Goppel writes in the introduction to his forthcoming exhibition (the project won the prize for best newcomer in last year’s Leica awards). “It took some time to realise I was not alone. It was not difficult to explain to [friends] what pictures I was looking for – we were all in the middle of it and knew how the other was feeling. The camera was my personal tool in processing the weight of our disorientation.” Before the pandemic, Goppel says, one in 10 German teenagers showed symptoms of depression. At the end of the first lockdown, it was one in four. “Many of my friends had trouble reconnecting with their social lives, and I was no different,” he says. “I have yet to go back to university.”