When Aaron Stern considers what inspires his work, he is reminded of the Leonard Cohen lyric, “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” In March 2020, as New York City began to shutter and fall silent, the photographer’s busy schedule cleared. He had nothing to do but walk and shoot. “Seeing 80,000 people empty out of the city I’ve called home for 21 years – it was ominous, and fascinating,” he says. “I was trying to find some humour, some lightness.”
In the end, he found it in the window of Arturo’s, a pizza place in Lower Manhattan. “The fake relic brought the collapse of Rome to mind, and the fall of that civilisation and democracy, while the glamorous Joe DiMaggio era that once embodied New York is also long gone,” he says. “Here I am, in this post-truth era, post-Capitol attacks, with this disease that’s killing thousands, and I stumbled across this juxtaposition of two previous eras that have also ended. It captured just what I was thinking about.”
Stern took this with his main camera, but as he uses film and the labs were closed, he repeated the shot on his iPhone.
His work from this period now features in a book: Madam, Nurses Run. He says of the mood among the New Yorkers who also stayed behind: “There was resilience, camaraderie and pride. In a country that’s never been more divided, New Yorkers still get through things together.”