PPD Readers Pandemic Projects: Leland Bobbe's "Public Isolation"

By David Schonauer   Thursday August 13, 2020

New York, the bustling city.

A city whose din is the sound of life in motion.

Except for the spring of 2020, when, notes photographer Leland Bobbe, the city’s streets fell into “an eerie quiet.” Bobbe, whose New York street photography we have featured previously at PPD, says he “felt compelled” to capture the new New York, knowing that he “may never see anything life this again in my lifetime.” Others had done the same, but, says Bobbe, “I felt that something was missing and that the whole story was not being told.” The result is his project “Public Isolation.” Below, he describes the project.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, the usually crowded hustle and bustle streets of NYC no longer existed. The streets have fallen into an eerie quiet to reveal a new New York and the difference to me was jarring.  

I felt compelled to capture this because I realized how unique this was and that I may never see anything like this again in my lifetime. I did see many long shots of just the empty streets, for example Times Square and Fifth Avenues, but I felt that something was missing and that the whole story was not being told. I wanted to create more intimate images that conveyed the feeling of isolation created by the pandemic in a stark and powerful way.

I tried to achieve this by including one person in an otherwise empty street. As much as seeing a single person emphasized the lack of people on the street to me, it also illustrated the fact that most people were home, sheltering in place. In addition most people were wearing masks, and I thought that these expressionless faces added to the feeling of loneliness, isolation and being shut in.

I also noticed how much more evident the homeless were because they were not being hidden behind throngs of pedestrians. They could no longer be swept under the rug. I felt that Black and White was the best medium for this project because the lack of color added to the bleakness of the pandemic.

Regarding my approach: When I’m creating these types of street images I find myself thinking about an animal stalking its prey. I have to be on my toes, ready to pounce while at the same time making myself as inconspicuous as possible. I have worked both in the studio, where I have complete control, and on the streets, where I have none. I find that the excitement of having no control exhilarating but sometimes frustrating. Everything moves so fast and changes so quickly on the streets. But I find the challenge exciting. My window of time to capture any one image is very short, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. This always reminds me of a quote by the late great jazz musician Eric Dolphy, who said “When you hear music, after it's over, it's gone, in the air. You can never capture it again."


  1. Richard Peterson commented on: August 15, 2020 at 4:38 p.m.
    Great article, thank you.

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