We’re All In This Together – A Clarence Valley Photographer’s Creative Response To COVID-19

Clarence Valley creative Minya Rose Holroyd is using photography to promote connection and comfort during a time of uncertainty and unrest. Somewhat spontaneously, she began shooting portraits of local residents and asking them about life in the midst of a global pandemic. In late March, Minya Rose shared some of the images and stories on Instagram and says the project – titled ‘We’re All in This Together – has since snowballed. Coastbeat spoke to Minya Rose about her creative response to COVID-19. 

Coastbeat: Hi Minya Rose! You grew up in the Clarence Valley and left after high school. What brought you back?

Minya Rose Holroyd: I was raised in Nymboida, south west of Grafton. I grew up in a small shed on 1000 acres in the middle of the bush. Like a lot of people who grew up in Grafton, I moved away just after high school. I lived in Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast, London and spent a bit of time in Sydney as well. I came back to the Clarence almost nine years ago because my mum was quite sick, and I currently live in Grafton.

Coastbeat: A lot of people – myself included – are able to see their hometown in a new light after being away for a while. What was your impression of the Clarence Valley once you returned? 

Minya Rose Holroyd: You can get quite complacent when living in such a beautiful part of the world but recently I’ve experienced a newfound appreciation for the Clarence Valley. I’ve been revisiting places I haven’t been to in 10 or 20 years; just getting out and exploring with fresh eyes. We live in such a beautiful part of the country! 

Coastbeat: Where does your love of photography come from?  

Minya Rose Holroyd: I have an obsession with light – sunrise and sunset in particular. I’m interested in the way light falls and how it falls on people’s faces. My mum would often say she knew I was going to be a photographer because at seven years of age I would look at sunsets and describe all of the colours and go on about how pretty they were. I took up photography in high school and it progressed from there; first it was a hobby and then it was a business. I’ve come full circle, in a way. I was doing portraits in the beginning and then moved to weddings. I dabbled in travel photography and now I’ve come back to portraits.

Coastbeat: Your current project is called ‘We’re All in This Together’ and you’re documenting the impact of COVID-19 on people in the Clarence Valley through portraits and interviews. Where did this idea come from? 

Minya Rose Holroyd: I was in Sydney when COVID hit and I was supposed to stay there for two months but came home to Grafton instead. One day I was having a conversation with the owner of my local cafe. I was really interested in his story and wanted to hear more so I thought perhaps I could take his photo and tell this story. It was a surreal time. There was so much fear and uncertainty and I wanted to capture it in a raw and heartfelt way. When I first started posting the portraits on Instagram, I’d get messages from people saying how much they could relate to the stories I was sharing. That’s where the title ‘We’re All in This Together’ came from. I wanted to give people a way to stay connected, when it wasn’t possible to connect in traditional ways. 

Coastbeat: COVID-19 is still with us but it feels like we’ve overcome the worst of it. Will the project go in a new direction?  

Minya Rose Holroyd: I’m letting it take shape naturally. I’d like to continue the project for the next six months and document the changes we make. When I interview people, I encourage them to talk about what’s happening for them right now, rather than thinking back on what it was like when COVID first hit. That’s why I want to continue documenting the changes. Will it affect what we appreciate? How much time we spend with our families? How we shop? Has it negatively impacted us? I want to capture a more diverse range of people and stories, but I’m especially drawn to those living on the land.  

Coastbeat: How has ‘We’re All In This Together’ changed you? 

Minya Rose Holroyd: It has changed me in ways I didn’t think I needed. I’ve photographed over 80 people now and honestly; it’s been like therapy for me! I think it’s the fact that I take five minutes (or sometimes two hours) to listen to someone’s story; that makes it worthwhile for both them and for me. All of those little connections have helped this region feel like home. I now understand that it’s the people you meet, the stories you share and the way you make people feel that leaves the biggest impact in this life. The generosity of the people involved in the project has been heart-warming. I’ve been given pumpkins, jam, wine, moments of laughter and most of all I have felt at home. I have been humbled, been in tears, laughed…and l then laughed some more. Honestly, I haven’t laughed this much in years! In 50 or 60 years, some will have forgotten this time. But I think it’s so important to document the ways the world changes. 

We’re All In This Together – A Clarence Valley Photographer’s Creative Response To COVID-19

Lennox: “It’s been a bit hard, but I love spending everyday with my family. Stay safe, stay home and stay together.”

We’re All In This Together – A Clarence Valley Photographer’s Creative Response To COVID-19

Ang: “I’ve really had to embrace and appreciate letting go of the “must do”, and the preconceived ideas of “working” – which as a leader, an Aries and a high performer is HARD! I’ve also started dancing around my lounge room for two songs every morning with Double J or a Spotify playlist that is super positive and fun. No one can see me, it makes me laugh at myself, and gets my endorphins up. ⠀

We’re All In This Together – A Clarence Valley Photographer’s Creative Response To COVID-19

Kwame: “I’m taking the opportunity to learn new skills, and to take the time with my daughter Miwa, as it’s the first time that one of us hasn’t had to rush out the door for something!”

We’re All In This Together – A Clarence Valley Photographer’s Creative Response To COVID-19

Hayley: “I created fun and interesting things for us to focus on and shielded my young sons from the hysteria, so they wouldn’t be afraid. They have missed their friends, but as we emerge out the other side, I know they’ve had plenty of fun and have been able to just be kids in spite of the world wobbling off its axis.”

We’re All In This Together – A Clarence Valley Photographer’s Creative Response To COVID-19

Ray: “I am just going with it, doing my best to do what I can, in the time frame I have. We are used to adapting – we’re bloody farmers. Surround yourself with positive people. Take the positive out of every situation.”

We’re All In This Together – A Clarence Valley Photographer’s Creative Response To COVID-19

Helen: “To me sustainability is the biggest challenge that we all face and trying to live in a time and space where something as simple as going to the shop could cost you your life, is particularly scary. I personally have connected with many people sharing the joy of gardening and growing their own food sources and seeing the pride and excitement when they get to either eat it themselves or share the bounty of the harvest with others.”

We’re All In This Together – A Clarence Valley Photographer’s Creative Response To COVID-19

Ted: “This flaming virus, it’s something we could go without, it doesn’t bother me sitting around all day long because it’s something I do daily. At the moment I think it’s just about keeping your head down and out of everybody’s road!” 

See ‘We’re All In This Together’ and follow Minya Rose on Instagram here.

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