“Photography is Raw” — Bella Quirin on The State of Urban Loneliness

Untitled, Paul Maven (A3 print)

While the winter blues were still weighing heavily despite the recent February heatwave, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Bella Quirin to talk about her experience curating her first photography exhibition, tackling a subject matter seldom discussed in the public sphere. Currently on her placement year, Quirin will be returning to the University of Leeds in September to finish her BA History of Art.

“I had no plans for the exhibition prior to reading Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone,” says Quirin.‘The State of Urban Loneliness’ was inspired after she finished reading Laing’s part biography, part memoir. Quirin describes Laing’s approach to the subject as “investigative yet empathetic, and like her, I wanted to investigate this state of being alone for myself.”

Hey, U Up?, Tremaine King (A3 print)

Loneliness is an intensely personal feeling that can have devastating and fatal effects on people. Increased morality rates among the lonely are said to be comparable to the impact of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and more dangerous than obesity. But this widely felt undisclosed experience is rarely discussed out in the open. With worrying statistics like these it is refreshing to see young creatives such as Quirin and the exhibiting photographers interpreting the tricky terrain surrounding feelings of loneliness, entering a discourse that will hopefully start to destigmatize it. As Quirin says, “I wanted to open up the conversation about urban loneliness”, which I think is successfully portrayed by her impressive selection of photography.

Quirin received over 100 submissions for the exhibition, making a curation a difficult process that inevitably came down to, “I like this photo, and I think it conveys loneliness well. It was a subconscious decision and I picked the photos that stood out most to me.” A very frank and pragmatic approach for someone so new to curation; Quirin “wanted people to connect to the feeling of loneliness and understand we have all experienced it.”

Whitechapel – Call me, Tony Bowen (A3 Print)

When I ask Quirin why she chose to open call for the exhibition, allowing both amateur and professional photographers to submit three images, she says, “I didn’t want it to be something that wasn’t accessible.” Photography can be incredibly intimate so it seemed natural to ask Quirin why she chose this particular medium and not other art forms. “Photography is raw,” she says. “You will notice all the photographs are bare prints on the wall, just you and the picture — nothing in between.”

The connection between isolation and creativity blends so well in ‘The State of Urban Loneliness’ with seventeen photographers offering up their own perceptions of the feeling. The result is an eclectic mix of images that share the same vision and show loneliness through each individual photographers’ eyes.

Paul loves Karaoke 3, Phil Jackson (A3 print)

I couldn’t help but ask Quirin if she had a favourite image or series, which she quietly contemplated for a moment. She said that two came to mind. She feels a personal connection to the subject matter of Phil Jackson’s series, ‘Paul Loves Karaoke’, and she resonated with Matthias Nutschel’s ‘Japan’ series, particularly one photograph of an old woman looking out at everyone surrounding her with technology. Quirin says, “she looks lost — the elderly are some of the loneliest people in our society and it brings those feelings to the surface for me.”

Also on display are works by:

  • Ben Bucki – Inter-City
  • Claire McClean – Subject to Change
  • Matthias Nutschel – Japan
  • Hasret Emine – Apart Together
  • Holly Braithwaite – SKIN
  • Jill Setterington – A Shot in the Dark
  • Marianne Van Loo – The other side of the glass
  • Michael Gill – The Lone Age
  • Oliver Campbell – Solitude
  • Paul Maven – Empty/Full
  • Phil Jackson – Paul Loves Karaoke
  • Tremaine King- Partitioning
  • Richard Fish- Experience
  • Tony Bowen – ‘Scratch’
  • Tony Maj – Still life, again
  • Edie Kino -Missed Connections
  • Reece Leung – Terasu (照らす)


Untitled, Reece Leung (A3 print)

‘The State of Urban Loneliness’ openly explores and importantly delves deeper into a very intimate and complex feeling that makes people very vulnerable. The act of going to the gallery space and viewing the work promotes connection while unashamedly continuing the important conversation on urban loneliness in a modest and candid way.

The exhibition is primarily based at The Bowery, an independent visual arts centre in Headingley, until the 22nd of March. However, there is also a selection of the photography displayed at other locations around Leeds, such as Leeds University Union, Nation of Shopkeepers, Hyde Park Book Club and The Cross Keys.

To read more about the photographers and their work visit: