Springfall, a New York City Diary

Gaia Squarci

2020 - Ongoing

“It’s spring in New York tonight, but the air smells like snow. I hop in a Uber at 7.40 pm. The hand on the wheel wears latex gloves, my hands do too. The car smells like alcohol, I can’t figure out if from hard liquor or disinfectant. I’m home by 8 pm, the time when a long-awaited lockdown falls on the city. As I get inside the building I see a notification on my phone. The haze has thinned out over China, which is seeing blue skies again after too long.”  

When the Covid-19 lockdown started in New York City I realized that for the first time I was living history firsthand. For months now I’ve been trying to analyze what is happening around me like a scientist and a guinea pig at once, and I kept a record of my thoughts and encounters, in my surroundings and outside of the hospitals that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

So far “The Virus”, as the street calls it, took the life of more than one million people worldwide, 200,000 of whom were Americans. Thanks to commissions from the International Center of Photography and The Covid19 Visual Project I had the possibility to experiment with text and images in a free, creative way during the lockdown. I drew a portrait of the City and its people experiencing fear, solitude, solidarity, love, loss, and the feeling of going through a catastrophic abstraction that we can’t completely make sense of, because it largely goes on behind closed doors. I photographed and wrote a diary for the grandchildren I’ll probably never have, trying to help them imagine this time, which could sound to them like a sort of science fiction story from the past.

I’ll go back to photograph in New York City from March to May 2021, exactly a year after the lockdown. I’ll create a second chapter of the diary and I’ll continue a story I approached using only audio so far (https://vimeo.com/409863068/d23cfe62c5). This story focuses on Natalia - fake name - who has suffered from domestic abuse during the lockdown and expressed the will to divorce her husband. I’ll collaborate with Natalia to tell the development of her story, using whichever media will be best suitable for her to be safe, depending on the situation we will be presented with. This cross-media project will comprise of an exhibition with text framed on the wall alongside photography, a sound installation and new material from Natalia’s story.

My interest throughout these months has been directed not only to patients and health workers, but to virtually anyone I could meet and talk to. Everyone was psychologically impacted by this crisis and everyone’s life choices, which are shifting for many because of the loss of jobs, the fear of contagion and the political and social turmoil, will determine what New York will look and feel like a year from the moment it was hit by the pandemic.

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