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Photos of locked-down cities sold us a fantasy that we were 'in it together' | Sophie Haigney

Back in the spring we were astonished by pictures of deserted tourist sites. But they didn’t tell the full story I have been looking lately at the photos taken in mid-March of the world emptying out. Many of these images were taken from above or at wide angles, revealing vast swaths of space where people used to be. Major tourist sites were suddenly vacant: Times Square stopped bustling; only pigeons frequented the plazas near the Eiffel Tower; the view from the Spanish Steps revealed an unpeopled slice of Rome. Railway platforms, airport terminals, sports stadiums, concert halls and shopping centre car parks looked suddenly and strangely blank. Even beaches, seen from above, looked scrubbed of human life. I find these photos perversely beautiful. They are evidence of something truly terrible: the pandemic, and also of the sudden suspension of social and communal life in public that began in March. And yet perhaps I harbour the germ of a twisted visual fantasy that involves being the last person on Earth, achieving a kind of apocalyptic solitude, and experiencing the beauty of the manmade and natural world in lonely ecstasy. This, after all, is why normally so many of us go to museums at off-peak times and travel in off-season: to get away from others and to be almost alone in beautiful spaces. On a basic level, I think the visual appeal of these eerie photos comes from a place of latent alienation, a dark desire to hoard the world’s beauty for ourselves. Continue reading...
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