As Camilo Vergara responded to the pandemic, he began to think of the photographs as a diary, one that records the changing effects of COVID-19 on everyday life without definitively interpreting these effects. In turn, Vergara hopes these photographs will inspire further questions and ongoing conversations as the long wake of the global pandemic continues to unfold.
Camilo J. Vergara, September 1, 2022
The Diary's time sequences, depicting efforts by individuals and the government to mitigate the pandemic's effects, also trace the evolution of the way it has shaped crossroads in NYC and Newark. Some of these developments were temporary and have disappeared without a trace.
My method is to select one image from the several I take during my regular visit to each site. This image is most often the one showing the most people and capturing how they interact with one another. To connect the scene with viewers, I often select a photo in which passersby look at the camera.
The virus forced the closing of schools, restaurants and other businesses while keeping essential workers busy, thus changing the sex and age composition of crowds as the pandemic evolved.
Undocumented families, lacking government support, were forced to earn a living as street vendors, or collecting cans and bottles to redeem, or doing piece work at home. Of necessity, they were the first to line up at food pantries.
In the photos, the setting that constitutes the urban context usually forms a backdrop to passersby in the foreground. Among the common structures are stores, office buildings, traffic and signals, subway entrances, restaurants, and fruit stands manned by street vendors. They often include busses, where riding was free and passengers had to enter through the back doors to avoid infecting the driver.
Time sequences can offer insights into a number of issues. For example, during periods of high infection rates, stores limit the number of customers, so that lines of people waiting to get in formed outside, and the sequences show the spikes that necessitated these lines. Also, during school closings, students are no longer seen hanging out in the crossroads, but when schools reopen, we see the students return. And when churches and other religious buildings were forced to close, we see an increase in evangelists from different denominations preaching and singing at the crossroads. As for holidays and celebrations during COVID, I suspect that birthdays become even more important.
Which crossroads have members of the local population dressed in the traditional manner of their place of origin? My observations include Ecuadorians, Mexicans and Jamaicans.
Which business stayed open? Which businesses were the first to reopen after being shut down?
Curbside selling. Bringing white folks to segregated downtowns. I saw this in downtown Newark.
Presence of the Test and Trace Corps: Asking about people if they had been vaccinated, distributing leaflets with information about COVID-19, or just passing by.
Are there signs of vaccination or advertisements for the vaccine in the photos?
How did the pandemic affect street vendors? Bringing their children to work.
How were masks and gloves integrated into everyday street fashion?
When do expressions of opposition to closures, vaccination and testing emerge and where? Surprisingly few, I saw some in The Bronx, Queens and Manhattan in late 2021 and early 2022.