For the past two years I have been obsessively photographing the city, creating a pandemic diary, documenting the ways in which Covid has changed both our lives and the places we live. I follow people as they go about their daily routines: shopping, working, waiting for the bus, standing in line, entering and exiting subways. I also look at how businesses have adapted, how the government informs people on what to know, what to do, and where to go for help. The project, done in collaboration with Elihu Rubin, associate professor of urbanism at the Yale School of Architecture, continues to this day and includes other cities. (The entire collection can be seen at the Library of Congress website.)
Since the start of the pandemic, March 2020, I have photographed a small pizzeria in the Bronx, located at 412 East 149th St., a few feet from a busy subway stop in one of the zip codes hardest hit by the pandemic. I was interested in observing the effect of Covid on this popular place, its customers, its Mexican-born employees, and the active street life around it. “PIZZA” was “EST. 1958,” as we see proudly proclaimed on its canopy, and a sidewalk sign boasts that it sells the “best Italian pizza.” During the worst of the pandemic, all business was conducted through an open window.
Except for the addition of a crucifix, a holy card of Mother Theresa, and a memorial portrait of one of the former workers wearing an apron, PIZZA’s facade and interior have not changed since Google Streets first recorded it in 2007. The restaurant was slow to respond to the virus. Although the entrance to the tiny space was closed from April to October of 2020, it took until late December 2020 for public service announcements on how to prevent the spread of the virus to be posted at the entrance. Only in July 2020 did workers start wearing masks, and then often left their noses uncovered; about half of the customers wore masks. Finally, in February of this year, a sign in English and Spanish was added: “Face mask to enter.” I was surprised when Jose, one of the workers, told me that neither he nor any of his colleagues had contracted Covid.
Within two blocks of PIZZA, there is a heavy presence of New York City Health Department workers offering free tests and vaccinations. Further west is Lincoln Hospital. During the pandemic, PIZZA closed for a day on two occasions because of snowstorms, but never because of the virus. Surprisingly, this rare leftover of the Bronx’s past has proven to be a miraculous survivor, a testament to the resilience of small places, while at the same time fiercely resistant to change.
All images courtesy of the author.