New York City through Alec Vianu's eyes

By Alixandra Rutnik Posted on Jan 29, 2021

"The city that never sleeps... is asleep."

Art director, photographer, and One Club Member Alec Vianu captured New York City at its worst amidst the pandemic last year– claiming “the city that never sleeps is asleep–" words we never could have imagined to be true. One thing is for sure, New York will eventually recover and we will regain our claim to fame as the city that never sleeps.

Alec's images of an empty New York City are striking to say the least, so we caught up with Alex to hear the story on his collection of black and white New York photographs: Pandemic 2020 Edition.

These photos are very beautiful with almost no one in sight. When did you decide that you wanted to capture New York City in its “asleep” state?

I've lived in New York for a long time, and nothing has ever stopped New York, right? I've seen all kinds of things– holidays, blizzards, terrorist attacks– but no matter what, New York is this city that never stops.

Until COVID.

It was like the city itself contracted this virus and was wasting away– empty, anemic, no people, no cars. With the exception of the ambulances, this was a New York that none of us had ever seen before. It was so striking to me that I had to go out and capture it.

When you set out to take photos of the city did you have an initial vision?

I didn't have a plan originally. You know, all of this was unfolding in real time! So here I was in my apartment trying to process the enormity of this incredibly tragic natural disaster (like everyone else). I would venture out, and I couldn't help but recognize that the city looked a lot like how I felt— isolated and alone. That was my inspiration, and the more I explored it, the more the gravity of it kept pulling me back day after day.

"I would venture out, and I couldn't help but recognize that the city looked a lot like how I felt— isolated and alone."

When were these photos taken?

It was the entire Spring during the height of the lockdown. I started in my own neighborhood, and the more I shot, the more I realized there was to shoot. It was ambitious, but my goal was to cover all of Manhattan and select parts of Brooklyn. I got very methodical about it and created grids of the city. Each time I went out, I would go to canvas a specific area. I went about every two days until I got into a bicycle accident (Lafayette and Houston). No more shooting after that!

What emotions did you feel when wandering the empty streets and shooting this collection of photos?

It was very draining, physically and emotionally. I love New York. Seeing it as this big vacant canyon— no people, no cars, just the echoes of ambulances– week after week, no matter where I turned, it was hard. I kept telling myself this was a once in a lifetime thing (hopefully). I just tried to detach and focus on documenting this very surreal moment in New York's history. It was so stark and raw to me, black and white just felt right. As the weeks wore on, it got very taxing, and I definitely had to push myself to keep going. Who knows, maybe that bike accident wasn't an accident?

How has your 2020 changed from when you took these photos up until today?

I feel like New York is recovering, somewhat, but it seems like a lot of people have left and most have stopped commuting into the city for work. Which means offices are still empty and fewer people are out and about. So New York right now kind of has this small town feel, which is kind of strange and sad, but nice all at once.

"So New York right now kind of has this small town feel, which is kind of strange and sad, but nice all at once."

When you show friends this series of photographs what are the reactions you get from them?

I'm not sure what the right term is, but it's like a shared empathy? We've all just gone through (and are still going through) this hugely disruptive, catastrophic event in human history. Since we live in the information age, we've shared the experience while at the same time been isolated by it. When people see these photos, they connect and feel them in a very personal but universal way, and for those who know and love New York, even more so.



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