It's wild how much can change over the course of a week. Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, and by the following morning I found myself shooting in the trenches. My task, as framed by the editors, was fairly vague – capture the full spectrum of human experience in NY during this pivotal moment. This open-ended prompt gave me total creative license, which was equal parts liberating and daunting.
The shooting process quickly became a balancing act. There is a delicate dichotomy between being a good samaritan and a fervent documentarian. I wanted to find the intimate and infinite emotions of New Yorkers, while also keeping enough distance to protect myself and others. I've never taken a more controversial assignment, nor one that carried such a selfless responsibility to unfiltered reality. This mental battle only intensified as the days passed, and as more information trickled out about the virus.
One of the photos that portrays this dance (between hysteria and fortitude) is of an elderly woman in a face mask, struggling to move her luggage through a turnstile. Nobody helped or even seemed to notice her, but she met my gaze, chuckled, and calmly made her way to the platform. Even now, I wonder where she was lugging her bags off to and hope she had a safe trip.
These photos are my first as a reporter, and I hope they serve to illuminate the many sentiments of the city before the shutdown. I know my intentions were in the right place.
– Spencer Cotton
All of these images are available as 16 x 20 in. archival quality prints on our Market page.