Photographer Camilo José Vergara reveals the pandemic’s lingering effects
Organised by the National Building Museum, Vergara’s online photo exhibition, ‘Documenting Crossroads: The New Normal’ shows the toil and tenacity of impoverished communities recovering from the pandemic
Much has been said about coming to terms with the new normal that we now live in, but for some communities, the effects of Covid-19 continue to be far from being acceptable. Since the beginning of the virus’ rise in the United States in early March, the photographer Camilo José Vergara has been documenting how it has ravaged poor, segregated communities across the country.
Embedding himself into cities such as Oakland and Richmond in California, Newark in New Jersey, and in New York City, areas of Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, Vergara has produced a compelling portfolio of people who are often overlooked in mainstream media, to highlight their struggles in properly avoiding the virus.
A companion exhibition to this first body of work, which was entitled ‘Documenting Crossroads: The Coronavirus in Poor, Minority Communities’, is once again being exhibited online by the National Building Museum in Washington DC. Vergara’s complementary effort, ‘Documenting Crossroads: The New Normal’ now places the physical and behavioral adaptations of people in these impoverished communities under the lens. Created with Professor Elihu Rubin of the Yale University School of Architecture, the exhibition presents the ways in which such individuals have had to live in order to stay healthy while ensuring their economic survival.
‘I use the word ‘crossroad’ for a group of street intersections in several of these communities,’ explains Vergara, who is one of the nation’s leading documentarians and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2002 and awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2012. He writes in mid June: ‘during the past 11 weeks, I have travelled from crossroad to crossroad in order to document the pandemic in some of the most severely affected urban areas, most of them in New York City. These intersections are social condensers and amplifiers, yet barely mentioned in media depictions of the virus and its impact, despite the fact that the number of fatalities from Covid-19 were ten times the national average [at the time].’
The 71 images on display showcase the ways that people – ‘street vendors, evangelists, shoppers, security guards, school children, police, people on their way to work, going home or waiting in line,’ lists Vergara – have coped with this new way of life. Highlighting the direness, humour, occasional optimism and ultimately, the solidarity that comes with being in this situation, Vergara’s series, which will continue on, is a testament to the resilience and endurance of the communities it represents. §