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Photographing lockdown

We take a look back at some stunning images of Glyndebourne during lockdown by photographers James Bellorini and Sam Stephenson.

During the first COVID-19 lockdown back in May 2020, photographers James Bellorini and Sam Stephenson were commissioned to capture images of Glyndebourne at the height of the pandemic.

We spoke to James and Sam about what it felt like to visit the empty site, and tell us more about the stunning scenes they photographed.

A selection of James and Sam’s beautiful images of the gardens in lockdown are available as a postcard book from our shop. Every purchase supports our work.

Glyndebourne continues to face the devastating impact from the loss of revenue due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Please donate to our COVID-19 Emergency Appeal today and help secure the future of opera at Glyndebourne.

Photo: Sam Stephenson

In a normal year, freelance photographers James Bellorini and Sam Stephenson would be documenting all aspects of Glyndebourne life, training their lenses on rehearsals, the audience in the gardens, food in the restaurants and education projects.

2020 was different. When the national lockdown was announced in March, the staff of Glyndebourne were sent home, and the site lay empty. James was able to work on some product photography in his home studio, while Sam was photographing the work of a local NHS trust.

Then, in May we invited James and Sam back on site, but instead of snapping the packed opening night of the Festival, James and Sam found themselves roaming a deserted Glyndebourne…

The Mary Celeste

‘It was very eerie’ says Sam, ‘to drive in and see nobody on the roads, and nobody at Glyndebourne when I arrived. Apart from the security guard I had the place to myself. One of the most memorable things was seeing the staff notice board saying “Friday 20 March”. Everything had stopped, and had been left as it was.’

‘It was like the Mary Celeste’ says James, ‘like everything had been put on pause. It felt bittersweet. It was a beautiful hot sunny day, which always makes Glyndebourne seem even more special, but no one knew how long lockdown would last, so there was a sense of sadness.’

Peter Thomas from our security team. Photo: Sam Stephenson

‘Everything felt so still’
Sam’s first port of call was the auditorium, ‘I wanted to show the building in a specifically empty light and reflect on the current state of affairs. The places that are usually so full of life and character. Places I usually photograph with huge amounts of people completely empty, to express the juxtaposition of an opening night versus lockdown with nothing going on.’

Photo: Sam Stephenson

One of the benefits of being alone was the chance to fulfil an ambition – ‘I’m no singer’ says Sam, ‘but I did do a bit of a “lalala” just to say I’d sung on the stage at Glyndebourne! After that I sat on the stage and just looked out for a moment. Everything felt so still. Like a movie scene.’

‘A strange candy store’

Photo: James Bellorini

James and Sam were among the few people who got to see our preparations for the cancelled Festival. James was able to explore the backstage dock, where the sets are stored when they are not in use. ‘It was a bit like a strange candy store’ he recalls, ‘All these amazing things were ready to go on stage. I recognised L’elisir d’amore as I’d been in the production a few years ago, but there were all the new sets as well’.

Audiences shouldn’t despair though – all of the productions created for 2020 will eventually be seen on the Festival stage in the next few years.

‘Things had just been put down’

Photos: James Bellorini

‘Photographically it was quite magical’ says James, ‘I went to the production hub, to capture the sense that things had just been put down. People had been working one minute and asked to stop the next, so there were tools on the side and props halfway through being made.’

‘There was still thread in the sewing machines, caught in the sunlight. It was unusual and poetic, ghostly in a way. I was expecting people to come in and start again.’

Photo: Sam Stephenson

Moving outside

Things weren’t so quiet when the photographers moved outside, ‘there was so much noise from the wildlife, the sheep and the birds.’ says Sam, ‘The sheep kept looking at me strangely because they hadn’t seen people for so long!’.

Photo: Sam Stephenson

James recalls, ‘It was almost like a normal shoot in the gardens, but that sense of “where is everyone”, so once again I focused on the places that people could have just left.’

It was in the gardens that James captured one of his favourite images from the shoot of the sculpture at the end of the lake – ‘She’s got her hand up and it looks like she’s reaching for the sun’ he says, ‘It felt the statue was saying there’s still hope and life to be had, a positive future’.

Photo: James Bellorini

‘The weight of history’

‘I’ve been hugely grateful and thankful that Glyndebourne has been able to give me work’ says James. ‘The photography from Glyndebourne has been a lifeline, and it’s been interesting as a photographer to respond to the challenge of a different Glyndebourne, creatively.’

Sam agrees, adding that ‘it was a real privilege to shoot at Glyndebourne during lockdown. In a way, I felt the weight of history. In years to come people might be looking back at these photos too see what Glyndebourne was like in lockdown.’

James Bellorini is a freelance photographer based in Brighton, collaborating with people and brands to create great images and visuals that help them make connections, build relationships, and tell stories. You can see more of James’ work at and follow him on Instagram here.

This year James has also photographed our socially distanced rehearsals, which you can see in these photo galleries of In the Market for Love and The Magic Flute.

Sam Stephenson is a Sussex-based professional, full-time freelance photographer with over fifteen years experience in corporate, PR, local and national news and sport. He specialises in the arts, education, health and construction sectors. You can see more of Sam’s work at and follow him on Instagram here.

As well as photographing Glyndebourne, in 2020 Sam has also been working with the Weald and Downland Living Museum to document all of their historic buildings. You can see some of the photos on his Instagram.

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