Photo Oxford Festival: Photography in times of crisis

© Fran Monks

Photo Oxford Festival: Photography in times of crisis

By Diana Miu, 10 November 2021

The Photo Oxford Festival is delivering a continuation of their 2020 Festival in all its glory. The theme Women and Photography – Ways of Seeing and Being Seen seems appropriate for a year – or decade, should I say – of women’s liberation and the rise of awareness regarding their presence in the photography world.

And maybe it is not so unfortunate that in 2020, due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the festival could not be fully presented. With more time to expand the festival both in real life, and within the online realm, Photo Oxford now delivers exhibitions that could not have been created were it not for a global pandemic.

Take British portrait artist Fran Monks, who has been using Zoom during the pandemic to photograph her subjects, bringing to light the change-makers we don’t often think about.

Cleverly transforming difficult situations into artistic ventures, Fran captures two crises – a medical and a climate one – in her two exhibitions featured in the Photo Oxford Festival - Zoom Portraits of COVID19 Vaccine Trial Participants and Zoom Portraits of Climate Negotiators. “I didn't intentionally choose crises, but it just happens that we have two on our hands at the moment!”, Fran explains.

During those crucial weeks of Oxford Astra Zeneca, Pfizer, Imperial College, Novavax and Janssen vaccine trials, she used Zoom to take photographs of the volunteers vital to the recovery from the pandemic. In her own words, “the old and young, the high risk and low risk, those with and without family support” are all saviours of lives during a medical crisis. The ordinary lives of these people, combined with their direct voluntary participation in speeding up the pandemic’s end, shaped the story of the unseen heroes.

Zoom Portraits of COVID19 Vaccine Trial Participants can be seen at the History of Science Museum and on building hoardings on Broad Street, until 15 November.

Fran’s other exhibition – timely aligned with the COP26 meetings in Glasgow – features Zoom portraits of the negotiators involved in the climate crisis agreements. To her, the process of photography is just as important as the product itself. “I believe in these cases, giving these people a platform to tell their stories was very worthwhile.”

With an eye on history, Fran Monks’ work is centred around a desire to make the stories of people under the radar known to future generations.

Zoom Portraits of Climate Negotiators can be viewed on the outside of the Blavatnik School of Business, on Walton Street.

You can see Fran Monks’ work, along with many other photography exhibitions, both in-venue and online and take part in the remaining events for the Photo Oxford Festival until 15 November. Details are on


For national press and PR enquiries and interviews: Zena Howard

For images, local press and social media: Danielle Battigelli

Festival runs: 15 October - 15 November 2021