Human Resilience: How the Coronavirus Has Changed Photography


Jeremy Cohen

Some New Yorkers continue their photography hobbies on the rooftops of their apartment buildings. Photo reprinted by permission from: @jermcohen (Jeremy Cohen)

In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, life has taken a drastic turn. State-wide lockdowns have confined people to their homes, forcing many to convert their living rooms into work offices. Yet, amidst everything comes a very different struggle — the survival of photographers and photojournalists.

Unlike other professions, photography cannot be done online. It requires photographers to get out and explore the world, to expose themselves to the outside. With social distancing and stay-at-home orders in place, most photographers are now restricted to their homes, struggling to adapt within four walls.

New York City, one of the major meccas for photography in the nation, appears to have ground to a near halt when you venture outside. The city that never sleeps is finally resting. Restaurants only permit takeout or delivery, nonessential businesses are closed, and schools have been shuttered for the rest of the year. However, despite the closure of businesses, New York City continues to persevere, and an unbreakable spirit prevails in every New Yorker. Many New Yorkers have taken to their roofs to cling on to remnants of normality, a previous world bustling with people, cultures, and emotion.  Throughout the five boroughs, people can be seen dancing, exercising, eating, playing, singing, and relaxing on their roofs. Although the sidewalks of the city are no longer open for photographers to exercise their talents, these rooftops are becoming relevant like never before. 

Jeremy Cohen, a photographer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, has begun to document the lives of New Yorkers under quarantine in his new project, “Roof Culture.” Originally starting off as a couple of clips recorded on his iPhone, his photos and videos have gone viral on Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. From his Brooklyn apartment, Cohen has observed people doing yoga, working on their laptops, eating, sleeping, and even cleaning. Now armed with a Sony 100-400mm G Master, Cohen has been capturing the daily lives of normal people in his neighborhood.  

“The series is celebrating the resilience of New Yorkers – everyone is making the best of an unfortunate and unexpected situation,” Cohen said. “New Yorkers are adapting by going to their roofs to do all of the activities that they normally do in a safe and responsible way. The culture of roof activity in New York is changing during this time of social distancing. Whether we New Yorkers are dancing, relaxing, exercising, or flying kites, we’re making the best of it, while staying positive and being responsible [for] social distancing,” he wrote on his Instagram page.

Yet, Cohen has also captured brilliant landscapes of the beautiful New York concrete jungle. In one of many photos, the Empire State Building can be seen standing proud and tall, engulfed by the orange sunset. In another rests One World Trade Center, piercing the skyline as a ray of sunlight slips through the clouds. “It’s definitely been bizarre being home all alone all the time as a very outgoing guy, but I’m taking it day by day and staying busy with art projects,” said Cohen.

 The photographs taken today will be the images found in the history books of tomorrow. Whether we know it or not, we are now living in an unprecedented time as the coronavirus tests the bonds of humanity. Armed with long lenses and unwavering attitudes, photographers and photojournalists like Jeremy Cohen are slowly documenting the world as we’ve come to know it. 

Unlike other professions, photography cannot be done online. It requires photographers to get out and explore the world, to expose themselves to the outside.