Venturing out onto the streets of New York, photographer Andrea Ardemagni is stunned by the empty streets and the deserted train platforms. Even homeless people have almost disappeared. A voice announcement through loudspeakers saying: “Do not come in the subway unless it is absolutely necessary to go to work.” He walks a bit along with the empty platform when he sees a woman on the other side of the track. After exchanging stares, he captures that moment with his lens, creating one of his favorite pictures taken during the COVID-19 crisis.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus is causing a catastrophic loss of life and prompted governments around the world to adopt drastic measures, including asking people to stay home. Almost everything is on hold as cities and regions are on lockdown. However many photographers around the world are not putting their work on pause; they are pushing beyond the limits to document what life is like amid the crisis.
“I feel brave being one of the few people that go out to document the city,” Ardemagni said in voice messages. “But I also feel scared, I do not have a proper mask and I may end up getting the virus. What happens then?”
Dubai-based photographer Bachir Moukarzel pitched an idea to the Dubai Media office to document the emptiness of the city. “They accepted,” Moukarzel said in a video call. “Even Dubai TV and Dubai Police contributed to the project.”
“The most touching moment was shooting the heart of the city, Downtown Dubai, when the busiest location did not have a single soul; it did not even have cleaners and security guards,” adds Moukarzel. “It was important to document it, and to show everyone that all places are empty, that everyone else is also at home, and that they should continue staying at home as well.”
Beijing-based photographer Fred Dufour was also deeply moved by the scenes of emptiness. “It is difficult to see the city that never stops and suddenly have empty streets, empty malls, and empty parks, just like a ghost town,” he said in a video call.
It was a challenge for Dufour to document all this, as there were restrictions to movements across the city. Hospitals were completely off-limits, which crushed his dream of following a doctor around. Apartments and offices were very difficult to enter, and people generally were afraid to mingle. Despite all these obstacles, he was determined to shoot as much as he can. He managed to create many videos and pictures that depict the essence of the crisis, and illustrate the isolation, worry, and fear of the people.
“I shot a lot,” said Dufour, “but I still should have shot more and more because you will never have this happening again.” Dufour considers that documenting life during the crisis, from Beijing, absolutely essential. “As a journalist, as a photo-reporter, and as a cameraman, it is important to show the rest of the world what is happening here, especially because in a way, we are two months in advance compared to the U.S.A., Europe, and many other countries. It is necessary and interesting to share what happened to us already, which is happening to you now, and what is happening to us now, which will most probably happen to you in the future as well.”
Like many photographers around the world, Ardemagni, Moukarzel, and Dufour are facing up to the many ways in which the pandemic impacted them and their work.
After capturing his favorite subway shot, Ardemagni realized that he felt happy because the picture’s impact satisfies all his goals, when it came to photography: It was meant “to not only show the best things in New York, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge and the skyline, but to show the million things that make up the city, so the people, the homeless, the bars, and everything that one sees if they were truly there.”
Edited by: Raseel Amro