In New York City, the People vs. the Pandemic: Unforgettable Photos
Peter Turnley has been out on the streets of New York City almost every day since the lockdown began, and among his photos are images likely to become icons of this plague year.
The moment came on Mother’s Day, as it happened, in front of Lenox Hill Hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Once again New Yorkers were cheering for essential workers on the front lines fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Four young men stopped their car. They set up an electric organ and an amp, and one climbed on the hood. He started to sing “America the Beautiful.”
Erika, a traveling nurse who immigrated from Brazil more than 35 years ago, and who had come to New York from her home in the Carolinas to try to help, put her hand over her heart. And on her face and in her eyes at that moment was all the emotion—the hope and the fear, the weariness and determination—that defines the suffering of these times.
That Peter Turnley was the photographer who caught that moment outside Lenox Hill Hospital should not come as a surprise. Turnley has spent decades in war zones and refugee camps around the world on assignment for many publications. When he found himself locked down in New York City on March 21, nobody told him to go out on the streets. He just knew he had to. And ever since then he has posted almost daily on Facebook and on a dedicated Web page his stunning black and white images of life and death in locked down New York.
The Daily Beast is publishing just a handful of the photographs here, but among them are images that should live on as icons of these times, not only for New Yorkers, but for anyone who has survived this plague: 30-year-old Yanan (from Wuhan, no less) running across the Brooklyn Bridge in March; an MTA bus driver, hands clasped as if in prayer; paramedics in their dress uniforms around the casket of one Anthony Thomas, who had worked saving lives for 36 years before COVID-19 took his; Joel And Moshe, masked, waiting for their 83-year-old father to get out of the hospital after five weeks; and that scene on Mother’s Day, when Erika put her hand to her heart as she listened to the song.
“America the Beautiful.”
And so it is.