Goff Books : Gregory J. Peterson : New York Stilled Life

Mid-March 2020: The New York native Gregory J. Peterson is taking an early evening stroll through her neighborhood on Manhattan’s Upper West Side when the unthinkable happens. The 24-hour city is shutting down to protect its citizens from a raging invisible and deadly new coronavirus. Manhattan’s iconic public spaces are now empty of people. The monumental Lincoln Center Plaza is emptied of opera and ballet lovers. The sounds of ice skaters and the bustle of tourists at the world-famous Rockefeller Center ice rink are gone. We do not see a single soul go to mass on Easter Sunday because the churches, including the Saint-Jean-le-Divin cathedral, are closed. In absolute silence, the city is motionless, as no one has ever seen it before. xx

Traveling by foot and bicycle to avoid contagion, Peterson embarked on a personal journey to document a momentous moment in the city where he was born and raised. He took over 400 photographs of over 200 locations across the city in the spring and summer of 2020 to capture its beauty when no one was around. Using his iPhone 11, he photographed landmarks that now looked almost surreal with no people: the United Nations Secretariat with no traffic, visitors or flags, 42nd Street in front of Grand Central Terminal with no people or even a car in view, and historic districts. famous for their shops, restaurants and art galleries, now transformed into enigmatic settings.

Without the people, these photos reveal the primitive soul of the city. They reveal a serene beauty most often obscured by the frenzy of our hectic lives. We see New York with new eyes. David Cohen, editor ofArt Critical, writes: “The first reaction to Gregory Peterson’s posed and frozen shots of New York City is: it must be trick photography. He Photoshopped people – or alternatively a sunny daylight – into what must have been shots in the middle of the night. But no: it is the capital of the world in confinement. You have to see de Chirico’s imaginary metaphysical paintings of Italian cities to find such drastic depopulation.

At the height of the lockdown, Peterson also captures the city’s response to the growing Black Lives Matter protests that have rocked the world following the murder of George Floyd. For the first time in living memory, downtown Manhattan and other neighborhoods were doomed after Memorial Day due to fears of civil unrest, as noted in the “Plywood New York” chapter.

New York Stilled Life includes a foreword by Peterson in which he explains the evolution of his project, and a foreword by Barry Bergdoll, professor of art history at Columbia University and former chief curator of the Department of Architecture and Design of the Modern Art Museum, New York, aptly titled “Empty Stages: A Short History of Urban Photography Absent People”.

Bergdoll writes: “Urban photography has always aimed to document both the architectural setting and the human actors that animate the city. But during the COVID-19 pandemic that swept through cities around the world without warning, actors suddenly disappeared. How does an image captured through a camera lens come to be devoid of people? The answer has changed over time. Bergdoll refers to Daguerre’s early photographs of bustling city scenes he took in Paris in 1838 from his studio window. When he developed them, they were empty of people, because his camera’s exposure period was far too long to record them.

Of Peterson’s New York photographs taken more than 180 years later, Bergdoll writes: “The city seemed depopulated, as all but essential workers, frantically and heroically facing danger in hospitals, stayed at home…New York, like cities around the world, was as empty as the first photographic portraits of cities. … Witnessing places on tourists’ must-visit lists devoid of everything but bird life in Peterson’s photographs feels both surreal and familiar.

In his preface, Peterson explains how the project began by posting the photographs daily on Facebook. There was huge demand for his footage from his quarantined and evacuated friends and colleagues. After a few weeks, they convinced him to do a book. Peterson writes, “I never aspired to a career in photography. But I came to realize that these images had a special emotional hold on viewers because they encapsulated this unique interlude. Some may see them as odd; others may feel a pang of sadness at the thought of the canceled weddings, graduations, anniversaries, and other life events, closed businesses, financial losses, political strife, and personal tragedies of this era. . But when I look at these images of the monuments and landmarks and touchstones of my existence, and see them, really look, the backdrops of New York life now center stage, I see my dearest friends, the city that shaped me, a montage of tangible memories and hopes for the future that only delight my heart and make me love my city more.

New York Stilled Life by Gregory Peterson is a complete account of a unique and vanished moment; a memory of a time we all endured and how it changed us and our cities, perhaps forever. The book captures our experience and tells the story of the city, to those who were there and, also, to those who were not. The book is published by Goff Books in January 2022 before the second anniversary of the lockdown.


About the photographer:

Gregory J. Peterson is a business lawyer, passionate amateur photographer and renowned art collector. A lifelong New York native, he graduated from the High School of Music and Art (now LaGuardia High of Music and the Performing Arts), where he studied oil painting and other media, as well as from Columbia College and Columbia. Law School, where he obtained his Juris Doctor degree. Peterson sits on the board of several nonprofit organizations promoting the arts, equality, and public welfare. He has provided pro bono legal assistance to non-profit organizations and has designed and executed numerous charitable events. Before becoming a lawyer, he was a filmmaker and television producer. New York: Stilled Life is its effort to document and share a memorable period in New York’s history with New Yorkers and the world.

Gregory J. Peterson : New York Stilled Life
Portrait of a city in confinement
Foreword by Barry Bergdoll
Published by Goff Books
ISBN : 978-1-954081-26-0
Binding: Hardcover
Pages : 204
Size: ‘9×11’ Portrait

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