Twenty days after the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic, photographer Edward Boches found himself sitting in the middle of the Harvard Bridge on Massachusetts Ave. He settled in at 8:45 a.m. on a Thursday morning, a time when traffic usually floods the street. But the virus had slowed the world by then, leaving residents housebound and stripping Boston of the life normally brimming at every corner.
There, Boches snapped a picture: a black-and-white shot of the empty bridge and the skyline beyond. The image helped inspire Pandemic Boston, an online exhibition for which several Boston photographers captured a slice of reality during the coronavirus era.
“They’re not journalistic pictures,” said Boches, the project’s founder and an advertising professor at Boston University. “There’s more personal interpretation and artistic vision to the work. It’s a perception of life in the crazy months we experienced.”
Boches and his partners spent more than a month perfecting the website and its mix of photos before this week’s launch. Now it’s freely available to the public, just as Massachusetts residents cautiously wade through a phased reopening.
“The world is coming back,” Boches said. “People are going to want to forget — brush off — what happened here. But these pictures will last past that period.”
Lou Jones’s “Everything Stopped, Nothing Stopped” follows essential workers like nurses, mailmen, and grocery store employees. Jeff Larason documented all the homemade signs that barred people from entering businesses, encouraged masks, and or spread heartfelt messages in “The Signs of COVID-19.” Through “Isolated,” Juan Murray created sharp, shadowy visions of lockdown. Boches snapped streetscapes void of everyday happenings in “Somewhere Along the Curve.” And Coco McCabe used “The Ancestors” to display family relics she unearthed in her home during quarantine.
Margaret Lampert, the last of the group, captured residents from the North Shore to Cape Cod on the opposite sides of windows and screens. She found most subjects for “Let Nothing Come Between Us” through social media.
“I’m usually thinking about pleasing my clients,” said Lampert, a commercial photographer by profession. “But having this time and opportunity to take pictures for myself is amazing. Plus, a lot of people just wanted a way to mark this moment in their life, whether they missed their wedding or their prom. At least they have this momento.”
Because of the pandemic, the photographers pieced together their separate collections remotely. Boches, Murray, and McCabe occasionally synced up on Zoom, but much of the communication happened via e-mail and phone. As a result, every project participant went about the artistic process in a unique way.
For Boches, that meant riding around the city on a foldable bike with a small digital camera in tow. He said he intermittently worried about his safety in places like subway stations, where commuters milled about. But for the most part, the clear air and car-free roads made his escapes enjoyable — even during a pandemic.
“It’s almost as if you had the entire city to yourself,” he said. “What a wonderful place it would be if we didn’t have cars.”
The project was a drastic departure for Boches, who normally spends his time capturing niche communities or people, including oyster farmers or amateur boxers in Lawrence.
Murray, on the other hand, had a comparatively negative reaction to the deserted city. In an interview, he said he could feel the loneliness permeating from the Boston he loves in the lockdown’s initial days. The images reflect that sense of solitude, Murray said.
“The buildings were there, but there was a lack of familiarity,” he explained. “The energy in my photography comes from the people and the light. And I miss that.”
The cohort of artists will consider expanding Pandemic Boston by adding new images or possibly bringing another photographer onboard. Once the pandemic subsides, Boches hopes to transform the project into a physical exhibit.
Diti Kohli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @ditikohli_