NEW YORK, NY.-
Mid-March 2020: Native New Yorker Gregory J. Peterson is on an early evening walk in his neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where the unthinkable has happened. The 24-hour city has shut down to protect its citizens from an invisible, lethal novel coronavirus raging through it. Manhattans iconic public spaces are now devoid of people. The monumental Lincoln Center Plaza is emptied of opera and ballet fans. Sounds of skaters on ice and the bustle of tourists at Rockefeller Centers world-famous skating rink are absent. Not a single soul can be seen going to mass on Easter Sunday as churches, including the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, are closed. Starkly silent, the city is stilled, as no one had ever seen it before.
Traveling by foot and bike to avoid contagion, Peterson embarked on a personal journey to document a momentous point in time in the city where he was born and raised. He took more than 400 photographs of over 200 locations through the spring and summer of 2020 to capture its beauty when no one was there. Using his iPhone 11, he photographed landmarks that now looked almost surreal without people―the United Nations Secretariat with no traffic, visitors, or flags, 42nd Street in front of Grand Central Terminal without a person or even a car in sight, and storied neighborhoods famous for their shops, restaurants, and art galleries, now turned into enigmatic stage sets.
Without people these photos reveal the citys primeval soul. They unveil a serene beauty most often obscured by the frenzy of our fast-paced lives. We see New York with new eyes. David Cohen, editor of Art Critical, writes, The first reaction to Gregory Petersons poised, chilled shots of New York City is: Must be trick photography. Hes Photoshopped the people out―or else a sunny daylight in―in what must have been shots from the dead of night. But no: This is the capital of the world in lockdown. One has to go to de Chiricos imaginary metaphysical paintings of Italian cities to find such radical depopulation.
During the height of the lockdown, Peterson also captures the citys response to swelling Black Lives Matter protests that shook the world after the killing of George Floyd. For the first time in living memory, midtown Manhattan and other areas were boarded up following Memorial Day due to fears of civil unrest, as documented in the chapter Plywood New York.
New York Stilled Life
includes a Preface by Peterson in which he explains how his project evolved, and a Foreword by Barry Bergdoll, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History at Columbia University and the former Chief Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, aptly titled Empty Stages: A Short History of Urban Photography Absent People.
New York Stilled Life by Gregory Peterson is a comprehensive record of a unique, vanished moment; a memento of a time we all endured and how it changed us and our cities―perhaps forever. The book captures our experience and tells the citys story, to those who were here and, equally, to those who weren't. The book will be published by Goff Books on February 15, 2022 leading up to the second anniversary of the lockdown.
Gregory J. Peterson is a corporate lawyer, passionate amateur photographer, and noted art collector. A native, life-long New Yorker, he is a graduate of the High School of Music and Art (now the LaGuardia High of Music and the Performing Arts), where he studied oil painting and other media, and of Columbia College, and Columbia Law School, where he earned his Juris Doctor degree. Peterson sits on the boards of several nonprofit organizations promoting the arts, equality, and public wellbeing. He has provided pro bono legal assistance to nonprofit organizations and conceived of and executed many charitable events. Prior to becoming a lawyer, he was a filmmaker and television producer. New York Stilled Life is his effort to document and share a momentous period in New York history with New Yorkers and the world.
Barry Bergdoll is Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History at Columbia University and former Chief Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. A specialist in the history of modern architecture, he curated numerous exhibitions at MoMA, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the Musée dOrsay, and other venues, including Mies in Berlin (2001), Bauhaus 19191933: Workshops for Modernity (20092010), Latin America in Construction: Architecture 19551980 (2015), and Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive (2017). He is the author most recently of Marcel Breuer: Building Global Institutions (2017), and many other publications including Mastering McKims Plan: Columbias First Century on Morningside Heights (1997).