Life-altering changes have been wrought since New Yorkers retreated indoors, turning Gotham into an abandoned movie set. Speeding, for example, is way up in a city where traffic routinely crawls at six to nine miles per hour. Apartment dwellers have discovered that the noise from their neighbors has become absolutely intolerable, leading to a jump in complaints phoned into 311. And an entirely new genre of photography has emerged in which NYC is presented in all of its deserted glory.
The theme has found expression, for example, in videos of the empty city shot at ground level, or taken from above in aerial views by helicopters and drones. Then, of course, there's social media, where people have shared countless images of a metropolis stilled by pandemic. A cynic might describe all of this as post-apocalyptic porn, but there's no doubting the sincerity of people who are sharing these pictures out of sheer bewilderment at the speed in which their formerly honking, bustling and hyperkinetic town has gone silent.
And there's also no denying the austere, aesthetic appeal of such imagery, which, in the most capable of hands, can sometimes evoke the spirit of those 19th-century painters who turned to ruins—crumbling buildings from antiquity, demolished medieval monasteries—as a subject matter. Chalk it up to some quirk in human nature that wants to imagine what life will be like after we’re gone.
As it happens, we’re getting a taste of something like that now, though not for too much longer with any luck. Meanwhile, we reached out to several contemporary photographers who have set out to capture NYC’s New Normal, asking them to share what they’ve found. Hopefully their images will soon become historical documents of a terrible period that’s safely in the past.
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