Christmas season, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, December 19, 2020,

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.)


Christmas trees and masks, Value City, 379 Bloomfield Ave., Newark, N. J., November 19, 2020.


Window decorations, Fajas La Grenua, 133 East Fordham Rd., Bronx, December 4, 2020.


Merry Christmas, Musicians and children, Penn Station, Manhattan, December 23, 2020


NW corner of Malcolm X Blvd. and West 125th St., Harlem, December 25, 2020.

721 Chicago Ave., Detroit, December 17, 2021.

Free food distribution by The Ark Association, Roosevelt Park, Detroit, December 18, 2021. The building in the background is the former Michigan Central Railroad Station.

View of The Vessel from The Shops, 20 Hudson Yards, Mannhattan, January 1, 2021..

Christmas season, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, December 19, 2020,

All images courtesy of Camilo Jose Vergara.


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