Street Photography

Kim Beil at Cabinet:

City streets seemed eerily empty in the early years of photography. During minutes-long exposures, carriage traffic and even ambling pedestrians blurred into nonexistence. The only subjects that remained were those that stood still: buildings, trees, the road itself. In one famous image, a bootblack and his customer appear to be the lone survivors on a Parisian boulevard. When shorter exposure times were finally possible in the late 1850s, a British photographer marveled: “Views in distant and picturesque cities will not seem plague-stricken, by the deserted aspect of their streets and squares, but will appear alive with the busy throng of their motley populations.”

During COVID-19 lockdowns, streets and squares truly were plague-stricken and empty. Drones buzzed over the avenues, vacant save for ambulances. Photographers stood in the middle of once-busy boulevards, taking glamour shots of the apocalypse.

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