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A Photo Series of New York City in Quarantine

Essay by Liam Mackenzie — Photos by Luca Biro and Jake Srebnick  

When I am reminded of our city—of New York—I can feel the crowds pushing through me, the drama that is equally exciting and frightening, and the heartbeat that pumps no matter the hour. I can only sleep fully when cars are rushing past my window, or semi-drunk bar-goers are shouting gibberish at 3 am. Most of us have found comfort in the noises, smells, and imperfections of our city. For many, these aspects are part of the very fabric of the place we have always called home. And yet, what is our city when those characteristic experiences are gone? What is NYC when the shouts of angry citizens are muffled by masks, and the undistinguished voices of restaurant clientele are shushed by a fear of breaking quarantine? Do the buildings that inhabit every corner of our streets look the same when no one is inside of them? Answering these questions, Luca Biro and Jake Srebnick have photographed a series on The Big Apple in quarantine, and what our city looks like when the aspects that define it are removed. 

Two postal workers with Masks on by Luca Biro 

Deserted playground in manhattan by Jake Srebnick 

Sydney Deriggs (‘23): “The energy is gloomy and sad. It’s like everyone has lost hope…When I look back on when I used to go out to the park without gloves, without having to constantly sanitize my hands…running with my dogs…seeing my friends in the neighborhood, I realize that I just took everything for granted…The fact that no one is really around me sort of makes me feel more empty.”

Broadway by Luca Biro 

Corner of Broadway and Canal St. by Luca Biro 

Sarah Thau (‘22): “I’ve realised that I just don’t like going outside anymore. Even going to the park feels wrong because everyone that should be there isn’t. It’s just not what New York feels like…It doesn’t feel like the same city.” 

Astor Place Subway Station by Luca Biro 

Empty restaurant on Varick and Leonard St. by Luca Biro 

Clark Street Station by Jake Srebnick 

Jake Srebnick (‘21): “I usually explore the city in my free time with a camera – taking pictures of people in an environment and capturing their interactions with that space. When I went out to take photos, the human aspect was missing… The whole experience served almost like meditation, allowing me to take my mind off of what was going on in New York and the world. At the same time, seeing the city so quiet was off-putting. I had never experienced anything like this before. Spaces that I was familiar with seemed unrecognizable due to their lack of vibrance and commotion.”

A sparse World Trade Center by Luca Biro 

Masked delivery man on a bike by Jake Srebnick 

Olivia Rosas (‘22): “I can see the anxiousness in peoples’ faces. It feels like seeing everyone with masks is like a normal that shouldn’t be normal. On the one hand, of course, I know why we have to wear them, but that doesn’t make it any less odd.” 

Subway car in Manhattan by Luca Biro 

Zachary Redhead-Leconte (‘20): “It feels like I haven’t seen people outside of my home in so long. Seeing everyone with masks and gloves on and separated into their own family groups has also been kinda eye opening.”

Deserted school blacktop in Manhattan by Luca Biro  

When looking at these images, I can’t help but fill the empty subway seats with the faces of the groggy New Yorkers that I once saw each morning on my commute to Packer, or replace the desolate Broadway streets with the bustle of shopping tourists. Seeing the lonely buildings, parks, and subways only reminds me more of what our city once looked like. This contrast frightens me, as it very well may frighten others. However, as governor Andrew Cuomo said, “This is a long day”; but it is not long enough to make us forget the New York City that we know so well—that we can practically hear, and smell, and touch. Let these photos be a reminder of the city that stands despite our absence. Look forward to the subway seats that will one day refill, and the shouts of kids in the park across the street that you thought you hated, but can’t seem to live without. The structures that tower over our city still stand, waiting for us to overcome this hard time, inhabit them once again, and live with a stronger appreciation for what we have. In the words of our governor, “Love wins. Always. And it will win again through this virus.”

Liam Wilson Mackenzie is currently a sophomore at the Packer Collegiate Institute and is a reporter/layout editor apprentice for the Prism this year. This is his first year on the Prism. Liam is politically engaged, but always includes creativity and art in his work. He is also a dancer! Liam can be reached at limackenzie@packer.edu

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