Umbrella’s ‘Empty Cities’: photos of a world in lockdown

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What makes a city great? 
 
Its buildings? Its people? Its cosy pubs, locals’ caffs and off-the-beaten-track tapas bars?
 
All of these things. Obviously. 
 
But when Covid-19 hit in March cities changed dramatically. People shut themselves indoors. Pubs closed. Only ‘essential’ (ie boring) shops remained open. 
 
Stepping into this void came the amateur photographers. From Brighton to San Franciso, Liverpool to London, they used their allotted exercise time to document the state of the cities. 
 
This prompted Umbrella to launch the ‘Empty Cities’ project on Instagram. Over the space of a few weeks – before we started to meet in parks and buy jumpers again – we encouraged our readers to take photos of their towns. 
 
In London, Smithfield meat market – devoid of everyone but its nocturnal butchers – looked like an outtake of Escape From New York. A deserted Shaftesbury Avenue was fit only for zombies and bodysnatchers. And Hope Street in Liverpool was without, well, hope. 
 
Despite the once-in-a-lifetime strangeness of it all, the images we received were beautiful. During April, May and June, we got the chance to look closer at our towns, to record the things that make them unique (a very ‘Umbrella’ concept). Some of us – guiltily – preferred lockdown to normality. 
 
Of course, it couldn’t last. We started meeting in parks. Non-essential shops opened (as if stores that sell expensive coats aren’t essential) and then pubs and restaurants let us in 
 
The lockdown is over. But the virus isn’t finished with us yet. 
 
Yet, the streets will never look like they did for those few strange weeks in spring. Which is why ‘Empty Cities’ provides us with a pictorial record of a moment we’ll never forget.
 
Photos:
Smithfield @anthonyteasdale 
Liverpool: @80scasualsltd
Brighton: Dan Hawes
London: @felicitycloake
San Francisco: @mrpinkwhistlesf
 
 
 
 

   








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