Nicola Muirhead’s obscured polaroids attempt to reveal the invisible threat of Covid-19


Using household cleaning products like sanitiser, soap, bleach, and disinfectant, Muirhead seeks to visualise the unseen effects of the virus

At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, Nicola Muirhead, like many other Londoners, found herself at a loss. “All jobs, projects and future plans were suddenly axed or put on hold, and a new dimensional shift, in reality, began to unravel before our eyes,” she says. As the city began to shut down, there was a moment of pause; an eerie calm that stagnated an otherwise bustling metropolis.

Discovering an unused pack of Polaroid film, Muirhead began photographing her surroundings. “Mainly my husband and the corners of our flat, domestic scenes of boredom and waiting, leftover orange peels, the unmade bed… light across the floor,” Muirhead recalls. “I was just seeking to occupy my time with the novelty of instant film and the compulsion to photograph; distracting myself in an attempt to beat back my anxiety and fear for the future.”

Documenting this new reality – empty streets and mundane moments spent indoors – Muirhead began to consider how she could visualise the invisible effects of the virus. She felt that the weight of the pandemic, and its effect on our daily lives and collective mental health, was not conveyed by the images alone. So, she began to experiment with sanitiser, soap, bleach, and disinfectant: “Just about anything I had available in my home.” Obscuring the Polaroids with products intended to minimise the spread of the virus, Muirhead sought to metaphorically illustrate the threats of Covid-19.

The resulting images are both ethereal and grounding. Swirls of electric blues and vibrant greens obscure familiar snapshots of the city and daily life. Now, with an end in sight, the images will be published in a photobook, titled Unseen. “I want this work to convey the resilience of the human spirit,” Muirhead reflects. What was a meditation on an uncertain time has become a reflection and reminder, about the fragility of our daily existence and the importance of treasuring those moments. 

Unseen by Nicola Muirhead is published by Another Place Press.



Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.

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