As international travel came to a halt and governments cautioned everyone to stay home, streets and iconic public spaces emptied around the world.
Between March and June 2020, a spate of pandemic photography—by professionals and more ordinary folk—captured haunting images of how lives had been interrupted.
These photos of empty places—once filled with people—mirror the sense of isolation and solitude felt by many who were left struggling to make sense of how the world has suddenly changed.
New York, New York, USA
Photographer Andrew Werner’s busy schedule typically involves a mix of studio time and social events, including galas. ”Quarantine brought this to a screeching halt and my usually bustling backdrop became an empty frame,” he says. At first, it seemed as if there was nothing to photograph. Then he set out to document images of New York City, the place he calls home, where “some eight million people were quieted by circumstance and connected in solitude.”
“By day, I photographed vacant Fifth Avenue, idle Grand Central Station, empty subway platforms, abandoned intersections, uninhabited historical landmarks, and a motionless Central Park. By night, a deserted Times Square, quiet Broadway theaters, and unoccupied restaurants,” he says.
Werner’s collection of pandemic photography, called Places Without Faces is showcased on his website. His prior work has been featured in Harper’s Bazaar, The New York Times, Forbes, Vogue, and Town & Country as well as international publications, and appears on Instagram.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Bustling Casino Square is considered the heart of the Principality of Monaco, and Monte-Carlo as well. Often home to live events, the square is usually filled with locals and visitors who come there to people-watch or gaze at the luxury cars parked around the perimeter. Surrounded by the Casino de Monte-Carlo, the Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo, the Café de Paris, it also features a new shopping area, One Monte-Carlo.
A major renovation of the square began in January before the pandemic. These images from the Monaco Tourism Board Office were part of a June 2, 2020 shoot that marked the official unveiling of the re-design of the legendary square.
Singita Sabi Sand, South Africa
Singita Sabi Sand is a privately-owned game preserve adjacent to Kruger National Park. Under normal circumstances, guests arrive and leave from the airstrip, so it is unusual for a pride of lions to have an opportunity to sleep undisturbed on the runway. But during the pandemic, this image of a male lion amongst a group of lionesses was captured on a daily drive.
The leopard in the second photo took residence at Singita’s arrival lounge, where guests wait for their bush planes to arrive. The photos were taken in April and May, 2020.
When hotels and resorts shut down and flights at the international airport were cancelled, Matt Adcock of Playa del Carmen, Mexico watched his photography business plummet: Destination weddings and other celebratory events were cancelled. In April 2020, he chartered a small plane to fly over the Mexican Riviera and photographed the coastline from above, without the usual hordes of tourists.
The Tulum Ruins (above) are the third most-visited archaeological site in Mexico (after Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza), visited by 2.2 million people in 2017. When all archaeological sites in Mexico closed to the public during the quarantine, Adcock was able to capture these unique images. (His photos have been previously featured on Forbes.com.)
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
After staying home for weeks, travel blogger and photographer Jon Miksis ventured outside one day in May 2020 to shoot images of Boston to share with his travel communities on Instagram and TikTok. He says with “few cars on the road and more tulips than people, the city felt incredibly peaceful and serene while uncertainty and chaos were still hanging in the air.“
The photo above captures the Boston Public Garden, which usually draws big crowds in spring and summer, when people come to enjoy picnics and strolls in the park. The other image shows the city’s iconic brick buildings, bathed in golden hues, without the crowds.
Vito Valentinetti is a full-time photojournalist. For the past five years, he’s covered 77 music festivals in 33 countries for Music Festival Wizard. He had planned to stay in Spain for two weeks to travel with his parents and was heading to Estonia, when his flights were cancelled. As a result, he wound up staying in Malaga for more than 100 days.
For much of that time, people weren’t allowed to leave their homes except for groceries so he took the photo of the square on his way to the grocery store. The airport photo was taken on March 12, 2020 when he went to meet his parents.
Jermaine Amado is a portrait and wedding photographer based in Denver, Colorado. In early March, before lockdown restrictions were imposed, he decided to fly to Lisbon, where his girlfriend is a tour guide.
Because Lisbon is always full of people, he was eager to memorialize photos of empty places. Even on Portugal’s Dia da Liberdade (Liberty Day), a national holiday that falls on April 25th, people celebrated on their balconies rather than on the streets.
St. Augustine, Florida, USA
In spring and summer, the streets and beaches of St. Augustine are normally packed with visitors who come to enjoy its incredible architecture and pristine beaches. The images above were posted on social media by Florida’s Historic Coast (the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau) to remind visitors to return when all is safe and sound.
The area beaches were closed until late April, then only open in the mornings. At present, they have reopened full-time.