The world as we once knew it was on pause – empty streets, everything closed, not a soul in sight, a virtually apocalyptic atmosphere. The global pandemic transformed busy, crowded cities into seeming ghost towns at the beginning of 2020. Now we start to see them open again due to the restlessness of city dwellers and the permission of political officials. As our outside world awaits us, it’s opening itself up for new changes and adaptations. People are emerging from lockdown; face masks have become the new “must-have” accessory, and the quiet streets in many cities are showing signs of life. As this new normal continues to settle for all of us, it has created a chasm between today’s reality and life B.C. (Before Corona). The once-chaotic morning commute is no longer a race; café chairs are back on sidewalks, but baristas are wearing visors; even something as mundane as the “Saturday shop” – a weekly routine for most working individuals just a few months ago – starts to feel familiar once again.
This pandemic may have distanced humans from one another and changed our daily lives over the last few months, but as we emerge one tentative step at a time, there’s a prevailing feeling of hope. And, as we keep moving forward and more cities wake up, one thing we know for sure: photographers are taking to the streets to capture what they see and feel like never before. Curious to see how some of our photographers are feeling post-lockdown, we spoke to a few from Chicago, London and Hong Kong to see how they and their city are adapting.
EREN SARIGUL – LONDON @erenjam
We’re still feeling the aftereffects of the nationwide lockdown here in London. Despite the easing of restrictions, tension between people walking around and wanting to keep their distance has remained. Masks are a new normal, while parts of central London resemble a ghost town. In order to maintain caution, I’ve opted to avoid using the Tube and buses. Fortunately, a new pier opened up in the local area, so I can now take a boat into London to shoot. This has also offered new and unique views of the city to take photos of.With less people wandering about, capturing street photos can be a little more challenging, as it's harder to remain discreet when you’re the only other person on the street, but I feel as a photographer it’s important to capture this unique moment in time.
BAL BHATLA a.k.a MRWHISPER – LONDON @mrwhisper
Recently, with London in a heatwave and lockdown beginning to ease, I took the opportunity to finally return to the city on the hottest Friday and Saturday nights of the year so far. It had been almost five months since the last time I shot in the city, or anywhere to be honest, so as you can imagine I was pretty hyped to be out and about again. Friday night’s successes were mainly down to the weather. If you’ve ever strolled through central London late at night in a heatwave, you’ll know exactly the vibe I was on. Image-wise, however, I wasn’t so successful. Firstly, I was still building up my confidence after such a long break. Secondly, I spent most of my evening adjusting to our new social norms, i.e., frantically trying to avoid people to maintain social distance, hand sanitizing every time I accidentally touched or leaned on anything, and wearing my mask in highly populated areas. All very necessary, I know, but at the same time they create a small new barrier between me and making images, and it will take time to adjust. This got me thinking about how I would need to switch up my street photography approach not just for the following evening, but for the foreseeable future. Normally, I thrive shooting in super-crowded locations, i.e., markets, rush hour, nightlife hot spots and of course the underground. None of these are feasible right now in the current climate. Saturday night, I felt a little more prepared and more comfortable exploring the streets, with a slightly looser eye and more abstract approach. That trip resulted in a small series of London nightlife as the city reopens.
ARI GURDON-LINDEY – LONDON @ari55
London’s SoHo, where I live, has resurfaced to an odd mix of the familiar and the alien. Many streets have been transformed into a pedestrianised space of outdoor eating and drinking. I’m still going out to shoot when I can, but I’m very cautious. It’s much harder to take candid street shots, so I give myself little photo projects to focus on instead. The streets have felt busier compared to a month ago during lockdown, and the weather lately has been warm and sunny (for London) which has given a glimmer of light. People are wearing face masks in shops and hand sanitizer stations in the streets have become the norm. We all still have to take care, and be careful, but it does feel like a sign of love, hope and joy that people are slowly starting to re-emerge and are adapting to this way of socialising and daily life.
BERNIE NG – HONG KONG @itsbernie81
I’m writing this as Hong Kong is going through its third wave of the coronavirus. We had three straight weeks of no infections around June, and social distancing measures were substantially relaxed. It seemed the city was slowly getting back to normal again – people were out enjoying simple pleasures that we once took for granted, such as a day at the beach, having drinks at a bar, or meeting family and friends for dinner. Sadly, it seems we were all a bit too complacent, because coming into August, there was a sharp rise in infections. In fact, the third wave is substantially worse than the earlier waves. However, it says something about the adaptability, stoicism and hardiness of Hongkongers, who are facing the third wave with a sense of resigned tenacity. (The first two waves were met with much fear and anxiety, perhaps in part because there was a critical shortage of face masks, which were quickly adopted by the population as an important means of preventing infection.)
I’m still going out to shoot, although I certainly don’t do it as often. I try to tack on a shoot with another reason to go out – maybe on my grocery run, or if I need to run an errand that takes me somewhere interesting. Luckily my photography – largely aerial photography – takes me to wide open spaces, so I don’t often feel that social distancing gets in the way of my work. Photography is one of my greatest sources of relief from the cabin fever one gets after half a year or so of coronavirus. The chance to get out and see a living, breathing city in front of me makes a huge difference. My shots tend to be taken from some distance above, so I don't have a shot that captures the city and its people from the ground. However, I thought this shot, of a lonely stranger doing the laundry on the patio, dwarfed by the huge apartment block behind her, is a nice metaphor for the sense of isolation we often feel, although that is quite ironic for a place like Hong Kong, where we all need to live in very close proximity to one other.
JEREMY CHEUNG – HONG KONG @rambler15
The Covid-19 situation in Hong Kong has been on and off during the past six months, but the city is undergoing the largest wave to date, the third wave, which sees around 80-120 daily confirmed cases. The cause of the third wave is very likely due to imported cases from quarantine-free sailors from other parts of the world. The latest preventive measures by the government include forcing everyone to wear masks, reducing gatherings to maximum two people in public spaces, banning all dine-in restaurants after 6 p.m., closure of public leisure facilities, and encouraging people to work from home.
From my point of view as a photographer, I tried to mostly stay home during the peak of the third wave, and whenever I go out to work or shoot on the streets, I wear a mask and carry a disinfection gel with me all the time. I also try my best to keep a social distance with people on the street. From my observation, Hong Kong people are in general, very cautious and responsible about the Covid situation and have a strong virus-protection mindset.
Personally, the shooting practice and experience of roaming the streets of Hong Kong have not been much different, except for the interesting artifacts and scenes brought along by the epidemic: the empty streets/markets that used to be very crowded, the wrapped leisure facilities, people idling/resting in the parks, people queuing up for takeaways outside restaurants. I normally use a 28mm compact camera, a DSLR (with 85mm or 70-200mm), plus an iPhone as my street shooting combo, keeping it versatile whenever possible. People in Hong Kong, especially after the political upheaval of 2019, are largely wary about being captured. So, with or without the masks on, shooting on the street has been an increasingly challenging task, especially if you are a local.
GRAHAM CHAPMAN - CHICAGO @gh_chapman
As Chicago gradually reopens and copes with the pandemic, it’s easy for me as a resident to sense the differences in city life while I’m out and about taking pictures. It's not a feeling of good or bad necessarily, but a feeling of “different.” Walking through some of the city's neighborhoods, one might think life is somewhat back to normal. But if you head downtown it can seem like a totally different story. Major attractions in the city don't have the vibe they’d normally have, and some aren’t even open. For instance, Buckingham Fountain is usually crowded with tourists and Chicagoans alike, watching the dazzling display that goes on during the summer days. Now it's a dried-up centerpiece inside of a park that's mostly empty.
One of my favorite streets to stroll down and take pictures on, LaSalle Street, would normally be crowded with hundreds of businessmen and women hustling to get to their offices or to squeeze in a quick lunch before going back to their desks. Now, the sidewalks feel mostly sparse. People are still making their way around, but with so many working from home, the number of people on some streets is minimal in contrast to the pre-Covid era.
The thing that sticks out most to me is that there’s a different type of energy, or even a lack of energy, that is palpable while moving down the city blocks. It doesn’t necessarily make me shoot differently; I’m always just trying to snap what I see. But the lack of people makes it feel like a ghost town at times – a feeling that was once rare around Chicago. A lot of stores and restaurants that were once open and full of customers are now closed down and vacant. It all factors into what I'm aiming my camera at while I’m out there.
Another element of street photography that feels different to me now is that I have to be a little more aware of my surroundings as I try to maintain social distancing while wandering down the street with my eyes stuck to my camera. That, and my viewfinder fogs up a lot with my mask on.
All in all, I don’t feel like this has changed much with how I approach my photography of Chicago. It’s changed what I have access to, and the amount of people on the street. But really, all I’m trying to do is chase that feeling I get while I’ve got my camera strapped over my shoulder. And as much as everything’s changed, that feeling is still there.