In the first part of the journal she will hold regularly during the COVID-19 crisis with one image, one text and one song, New York based photographer Gaia Squarci describes how the American megapolis prepared itself to its closure, in a nearly apocalyptic atmosphere.
March 22, 2020
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. The driver looks at me in the mirror from time to time. I look at his eyes when he doesn’t, but I wish I could hug him as if we were friends. I’d like to think it’s because of everyone’s lives changing for the worse, because of some kind of shared dread. Reality is that I might just need a hug, and I can’t even hug my friends.
“Viruses often exploit the best part of human nature. They exploit the fact that we help each other”, Historian Yuval Harari said on TV today. They do. They exploit our instinct to physically come together. But I don’t even talk to the driver, I don’t find the energy. I’m tired to start conversations in the same way, with the topic that quickly swallows all of the others like a huge blob. We pass by an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Crown Heights. Two ambulances and a few people with masks outside.
Depending on where I look these days it feels like the apocalypse or absolute normality, and that’s how I feel inside too.
Yesterday I walked to the park close to home as I craved to feel the sun on my skin, and brought a camera. I observed the two of them from a distance. They looked whole, like they’ve had each other for a long time. But she said, "We matched on Bumble last week, Sunday night at 11pm. We talked on the phone for 30mins. Then video called for 30mins. I spray him down and make him wash his face and hands every time he comes into my house. I got laid off from the restaurant where I worked. He makes me forget all that's happening in the world right now.” They were surrounded by children climbing trees, people running, lying in the sun. Nothing but scattered masks on faces could connect to the fact that 14,688 people worldwide so far have died of an illness that we were unconcerned about just three months ago, and many would still rather not see.
I get off the car and 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 after too long.
Song: Funkadelic, Maggot Brain
By Gaia Squarci
Gaia Squarci is a photographer who divides her time between Milan and New York, where she teaches multimedia at International Center of Photography. She's a contributor of Prospekt agency and Reuters. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Time Magazine, Vogue, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, among others. Her work has been exhibited in the United States, Italy, France, Switzerland or in the UK.