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When I started a year-long personal photography project early in 2020, COVID-19 was still a distant threat – but it would soon change the colour and focus of my daily life

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This picture was taken on June 17 last year, the 138th day of my 365-day photo project. I was visiting my family in Richmond Hill, after one of the longest times I've gone without visiting them; I went on walks with my sister on a trail near our house.Photography by Lucy Lu/The Globe and Mail

Lucy Lu is a Toronto-based photographer.

In early 2020, I decided to pursue a 365 project. It’s a well-known exercise among professional and amateur photographers alike: one photo, every day, for a whole year. I felt creatively burnt out from the constant hustle of my job as a freelance photographer. I wanted back a sense of play and excitement in my work. So on Feb. 1, I kicked off my project. What I did not know was the kind of year we were about to have.

March 8 was my last outing before COVID-19 shut down North America. At the time I was visiting my boyfriend in San Francisco. I returned to Toronto on March 15, with a panicky, confused fervor.

The first week of quarantine was easier than anticipated and, dare I say, fun. Everything was new and scary, and there was a strong sense of togetherness. I was bubbling with so many emotions that it naturally came out in my photographs. But as the weeks of lockdown turned into months, it became more and more difficult. I was out of work, out of ideas and out of motivation.

But I continued my project. Why? Because somehow the ache of not creating was more prominent than the ache of having to, because I had nothing else to do, and because I still believed that documenting my experience of this year was important. It became a challenge to try to find something interesting and magical in a sea of monotony, anxiety and uncertainty. I quickly learned that when you do something every day, it is impossible to always be perfect at it, or even good at it. That was something I had to let go of.

A few weeks ago, I took my final photo of the year. I’ve learned the true difficulty of a daily practice, be it to take a photo or to floss your teeth. It is a process of recommitment every single day, no matter what that day may hold.

I am ultimately grateful to have had this project accompany me through this crazy year. It served as an homage to all the little things we may have taken for granted in the past, and a bold reminder that in life and in creativity, what is most important is the simple act of showing up, and trying to find the light.

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Day 1: Feb. 1, 2020

Uninspired by the demands of freelance work and the quiet, grey January days, I wanted to feel that I was doing something just for fun again, hence the 365 project. This self-portrait was the first picture I took for it. As time went on, it became a challenge to just make a picture, any picture – to see the same things in a different light.

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Feb. 2, Day 2

It was the beginning of a long journey, the second day of 366, a leap year. I was excited, determined and bubbling with the expectation of capturing this year to the best of my abilities. I wanted to really exercise my artistic eye. I wanted to make pictures I was proud of, pictures that captured something about the day. That particular day I was feeling under the weather, my body knowing better than my mind that I needed a break – a weekend for stillness, quietness and softness. I must often remind myself that sometimes the best ideas come not in a moment of work, but in moments of rest.

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March 15, Day 44

A high-stress day. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to learn of a flight cancellation, and then a flight delay, before finally getting home to Canada in the wee hours of the night. I prepared to self-quarantine for 14 days as the Canadian government had just mandated.

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March 24, Day 53

I was not sure what I was going to do for work. I was not sure when I would be able to visit my family. I was not sure when I would see my boyfriend. I focused on doing little things on my to-do list, such as restringing my guitar. It became more of a necessity, since I was playing it every day. Music was a refuge.

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March 29, Day 58

This is my Sunday Sculpture, a challenge organized by the Tate Museum in which one makes a sculpture with household items and/or their body. I can’t remember whether it was an easy day or a difficult day. The days within those two weeks are not distinctive in my memory. I do remember asking “Why not?” a lot. The world had already ended, so why not try things?

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April 10, Day 70

I missed the fresh, outside air so much. This walk in particular was special. It reminded me that there is a world outside of my small apartment, and outside of my own head. The littlest things excited me: a window with fake flowers, tree barks, a lovely blue wall, a picture of a kiss. For the first time in a while I felt happy and grateful, for my health, and for the health of my loved ones. I was grateful to walk, to see the beauty in the mundane and to capture it with my camera.

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May 16, Day 105

I’ve come to know my neighbourhood almost as a character in my life. I know the landmarks and the particular trees I enjoy, the neighbours with the good flowers in their gardens and the neighbours with the encouraging signs displayed in windows. The neighbourhood was my inspiration on the many days when nothing of note happened. I felt like I was running out of things to take pictures of and many days I dreaded the thought of it. Nevertheless, I persisted. I strapped my camera around my body each afternoon and headed out, hoping that the universe would give me something to capture. On this day, I remembered to look up.

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July 20, Day 171

My mom is a screening officer at the airport and was still going to work. She told me stories of colleagues who had contracted COVID-19; some had passed away from it. She was so careful. She ate her lunch in the car and that was the only time she would take off her mask. As soon as she came home, she’d put all her clothes in the laundry and jump into the shower. She jogged and meditated daily to keep herself healthy, physically and mentally. I felt protected by her, even though she needed more protecting than any of us. A good luck charm hung from the rear-view mirror of her car along with a mask.

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Aug. 6, Day 188

Seen on a walk around my neighbourhood. Not today – or any day in 2020.

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Aug. 23, Day 205

Seeing something like this would brighten my day, just a bit. I wondered what they were celebrating.

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Sept. 14, Day 227

A portrait of my mother on her birthday.

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Oct. 19, Day 261

I started to feel unwell, with a scratch in the back of my throat, and a dull pressure in between my eyes. ‘Well, it took long enough’ I had thought, convinced that I finally caught COVID-19. In a way it was almost a relief to think that I had it – this big, scary thing the whole world has been devastated by. Now I just had to buckle in and let it pass. I felt, more than ever, justified to sulk in all the negative emotions that had been hanging over me. The anxiety, the laziness, the loneliness. Less than 24 hours after my test, I received a negative result.

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Oct. 22, Day 265

A sign of fall. A sign of colder and darker days, of a collective, lethargic sigh.

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Nov. 8, Day 282

Street art spotted after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win the U.S. presidential election.

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Nov. 30, Day 305

Waiting to go home.

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Dec. 16, Day 321

My roommate Nahomi in our living room.

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Dec. 25, Day 329

Christmas was different this year, no get-togethers with extended family or seeing friends home for the holidays. My uncle’s family drove up and we exchanged our gifts by placing them on our front porch. In a weird way, it was a break in comparison with all the activity every other holiday season brings. We read, napped, went for walks in the snow and celebrated quietly, intimately, among ourselves.

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Jan. 19, 2021, Day 354

As my 365 project neared its end, I thought about how serendipitous it had been that this was the year I chose to document. I wondered what it would feel like to look back on these images and revisit how I experienced the world this year – what I thought was important, what I thought was beautiful, what I thought was worth preserving.

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Jan. 31, Day 366

A self-portrait in my living room, after a year of life and pictures.

How Globe staff spent the past year

In March of 2020, nearly everyone at The Globe and Mail began working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We caught up with some of the team to hear how their lives changed and what they hope will be different after this is over.

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