Each night at 7pm in New York City, resounding cheers and applause, music, and the banging of pots and pans can be heard billowing down empty streets and echoing across buildings from windows and balconies. The ovation comes from city residents who are banning together nightly to applaud the city’s frontline workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Now the city hit hardest in the U.S. and the world by the virus, this place that may have had a reputation among outsiders for unfriendliness or a lack of community is creating inspiring ways to stay positive, grateful, and together.
From her one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park-Kensington area, photographer Linda Pugliese has her own daily ritual at her window of late. With her camera in hand, each afternoon she spends a few hours capturing her corner of the city during the time of virus-imposed social distancing. Used to typically shooting travel, food, and still life—often with the comforts and confines of her New York City studio—Pugliese has found herself returning for the first time in a while to personal work, and to a subject and series which allows her almost no sense of control. “Street photography is something I’ve approached lightly even in my travel work, so this is sort of random for me. The only thing I can do is wait for the light to be right and wait for the subject to be in the position I want. But beyond that, I don’t really have any control.”
Between trying to keep busy and positive by churning batches of gelato and having themed film nights on her projector at home with her partner, photographer and filmmaker Damian Calvo, Pugliese has found the practice grounding and connective. “I guess more than anything I wanted to have a regular, daily creative purpose in the midst of all this.” She spoke with PRIOR about her Social Distance series, which is currently viewable on her website, and how she’s navigating this strange moment in her city, work, and life.
On the Vantage Point
[Where I’m shooting my Social Distance series is] a major road in the neighborhood—Cortelyou Road—and I’m pretty much photographing everyone that walks by within a certain parameter. This particular spot is a corner that gets nice light when it’s sunny. I liked it because it sort of looks like a set when it’s lit well. And I wanted it to feel like you didn’t quite know where it was [in the photos].
It came about because, in the beginning of isolation in New York, my boyfriend Damian and I had sat down for lunch to discuss what we could each be doing during this time. We tried to suggest projects for the other because it’s often easier. We had recently seen this film called The Jazz Loft; it’s a documentary about a photographer by the name of W. Eugene Smith, who shot portraits out of his window in the Flower District in the 1950s, and that is what inspired shooting out of the window.
Creating a Ritual and Series
Strangely I hadn’t been creating a lot of personal work recently, and the quiet and complete halt of all things outside has really helped me focus. Usually I [sit by the window and shoot this series] from around 1:30 or 2:00 until 4:00 or 4:30. Every day is different. Some days I’m really waiting around for people, which makes me feel good actually because it means people are staying home.
More and more it’s one person or a couple. Sometimes it’s a family but there are fewer of those walking around together lately I would say. A lot of people are grocery shopping—they have carts or bags—or on the phone. Most people don’t seem to have a sense of urgency. I do think people look more at ease than they were in the beginning, more settled into our new reality? Acceptance, if you will.
Subjects and Place
It’s been very interesting to see the changes in people. Now everyone’s wearing masks, everyone’s wearing gloves—they weren’t in the beginning. A lot of the same people walk by at the same time each day. There’s this one guy, I still have yet to get the right image of him, but he loves to come walking down the street singing and waving his arms around. He doesn’t look particularly crazy, he just looks happy and a little over the top. I’m more attached to some people than others.
The change of season has had an effect, too: There are some branches in the way of my “set,” if you will. And they’re starting to have buds, so they’re creeping into the images a bit in a new way, which is interesting. It sort of denotes the time and the change of things, which I appreciate.
What It’s Been Like to Create from Home
I’ve only been shooting travel for about four years, but I think that’s been my favorite type of work. It’s certainly the most challenging and often where the most creative control comes in because I’m often on my own. You learn so much and usually have access to things that you wouldn’t have. Portraiture and people haven’t really been my focus, but even in travel photography you can at least ask [a subject] to do a certain thing in a certain place most of the time. So relinquishing so much control is new for me. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing. I’m just still doing it.
Mostly [my time by the window] is sort of a calming moment. I’m focused on what’s happening outside—looking outside, everything about outside is sort of this extra calming thing right now. It’s always a surprise. I guess I’m not sure [if this project will change my photography]. Maybe. It’s definitely opening my mind to shooting in a way that I never really spent that much time shooting before.
Stacy Adimando is a cook, creative consultant, James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, and the recent Editor-in-Chief of SAVEUR magazine. Her latest cookbook, Piatti: Plates and Platters for Sharing, Inspired by Italy, is a modern look at regional Italian-inspired antipasti.