Photographing Our Second Covid Christmas
Camilo José Vergara has spent his professional life photographing cities. He is a documentarian, a cultural anthropologist, and his epic theme is time: how it shapes, molds, and impacts us; what the remnants and ruins of not-so-distant civilizations tell us about who we are and what we as a society value. But the pandemic has played games with our ability to process time and tested our resolve. Time froze and then—gradually, painfully—thawed, to the uneasy state of denial that we’ve now learned to live with. These feelings were especially acute for the people in cities who couldn’t opt out, who didn’t have the luxury of escape.
In March 2020, despite the clear danger in venturing out in the early days of the pandemic when little was known about the virus, Vergara set out to capture the moment. “I decided to photograph neighborhoods within a radius of 25 miles from my home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side,” he says. “My aim was to capture how people relate to both one another and the density of their surroundings—to buildings, traffic, street lights, signs, and ongoing construction. I observed how the virus affected shopping and holidays, how congregations took their churches to the street by setting up folding tables for displaying their pamphlets and bibles and wired sound systems to amplify their preaching and singing.” His 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, as all of us cope, somehow, with our second masked Christmas. (Here’s a link to the entire collection of photos.)
All images courtesy of Camilo Jose Vergara.