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When the City Went to Sleep

Manhattan is empty in these photos by Ali Motamedi

June 15, 2021 by Continuing Education
A Manhattan corridor is almost empty on a foggy, rainy day, as one person walks across the avenue.

From “When the City Went to Sleep” by Ali Motamedi

"When I first walked into Grand Central station, it was early March 2020, and I was not sure what would happen,” says Ali Motamedi. He captured pandemic-era Manhattan scenes for his photography series, "When the City Went to Sleep.” Ali developed his project following his experience in the the course, Articulating Your Vision: The Art of Portfolio Creation with Keren Moscovitch.

In Ali’s photos, Manhattan is devoid of crowds and a heavy silence has descended on familiar sites: Central Park, Second Avenue, Grand Central Station. For some photographers, this once-in-a-lifetime experience of New York City could be a clarion call to seize the moment. And for Ali, it was worth the risks.

Ali reflects on venturing out to Grand Central Station: "My parents and friends warned me not to go. The station was empty and there were only a few homeless people wandering around in the main corridors. I wasn’t sure what exactly coronavirus was and if I might get poisoned by some unknown particles in the air."

There’s much to learn from the entire series of photos, characterized by balanced, deliberate compositions and nuanced awareness of light and space. And it’s worth looking closely at two photos in particular: Sheep Meadow, Central Park, New York, June 10, 2020 and 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue, Manhattan, New York, March 29, 2020. With no direct sunlight in either, Sheep Meadow is in dawn or dusk shadow, while 2nd Avenue is dissolves into a cushion of fog. In both photos, a viewer may become aware of a particular atmosphere or mood.

"To me, New York City is a colorful city full of adventures and mystery,” he observes. "However, during the pandemic when those photos were taken, sadness and confusion were my dominant feelings. I think we were all in the same boat." 

Taking a long view, we propose to Ali that future, younger generations may see these photos and ask him about the Covid-19 era. What does he imagine he would say to them? 

"I would say, 'What an experience!; I believe life is still so beautiful with all these ups and downs, sad and happy moments, and I was so fortunate to be part of this experience to record it for future generations."

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