On May 18th, 2020, Eric Butler was furloughed from his real estate job. Like with thousands of others, the pandemic put a halt to his normal life, and as the world collectively shut down, he was not able to work and began exploring new corners of New York City. His photographic documentary book “New York City 2020” is a reflection of his down time from work, constant exploration of the city and the rapidly deteriorating urban landscape in New York.
ERIC: I’ve always been pretty creative, I used to walk around with a polaroid camera in college, I was into graffiti, DJing, streetwear, and sneakers. It was easy to revert to some of those hobbies when I wasn’t able to work. I was very interested to know if people were following the new “corona rules” and if they were, I wanted to see what New York City landmarks looked like empty (Times Square, Grand Central Station, 30 Rock, etc…)
Once I started exploring, it became tough to stop. What started as just wanting to know how seriously people were taking the “guidance” evolved into tracking the testing site in my neighborhood and eventually documenting the absurd amount of garbage that started to pile up and the homeless population… I kind of made a game out of trying to make the most disgusting things look good.
CO: What were some of your initial impressions when you started exploring the city, and how were they different from your previous notions about New York?
ERIC: I was surprised most by how easily almost everybody bought into the fear-mongering. Typically we think of New Yorkers as tough as nails, “HEY I’M STANDING HERE” type of people that don’t take crap but in my experience, most people seemed deathly afraid. I’m not sure if people were genuinely scared of the virus or the perceived consequences of being caught without a mask, either way, sometimes people would take huge side steps on the sidewalk so as not to violate the 6ft social distancing rule.
I think we also know New York has a reputation for being a bit gritty with a few rats and panhandlers but the garbage started to get intrusive in the summer, shortly after the riots started. I can’t explain how much trash there was on the streets, there were parts of the city where you would have to walk single file with a friend and sneak past huge piles of garbage, oftentimes vibrating from the rats within.
Protests turned into riots, retail shops were boarded up everywhere, I’d bet there’s still a lot of boarded-up businesses, for fear of riots or going out of business because of the lockdown. The garbage was piling up, the homeless people were taking over the subway system, living in trains and on the platforms, through all this, the main concern of politicians, police, and the businesses that managed to reopen was mask enforcement.
The city is so politically polarized, people protesting the lockdown were detained immediately but people destroying the city in the name of “racial justice” were given free rein. It was also very strange seeing the police officers wearing masks, it begs the question: how is someone that’s afraid to breathe fresh air going to be able to keep citizens safe from racial justice rioters, traditional gangs, and all the other struggles of a big city? Especially as they’re being vilified in the media.
CO: Knowing what you know, what do you think was the biggest disconnect between the leadership and reality during the pandemic?
ERIC: We’d have to use the term “leadership” very loosely but the first thing that comes to mind is the Cuomo nursing home fiasco, which is a very long story and everyone has their own thoughts about it, but I don’t think anyone can deny the fact that it made no sense for multiple field hospitals (Javits Center, Comfort Ship, Brooklyn Navy Yard) to remain empty while people were crammed into nursing homes, causing thousands of deaths.
Besides that, I think there was a lot of flip-flopping and deceit. In late February, de Blasio announced that there wasn’t much to be worried about and gave movie recommendations. The health commissioner, at the time, Oxiris Barbot, suggested everyone continue to take the train and insisted we shouldn’t miss the Chinese New Year celebration. I actually think they were correct in those early assessments but it was only about a month later, they completely changed their tune, and suddenly, stepping outside of your home was deadly!
Another huge disconnect, in my opinion, is Cuomo and de Blasio are still, to this day, spouting statistics that are impossible to be double-checked. Any number of hospitalizations, deaths, or vaccine statistics have to be taken as true because there is literally no way to get that information without going through those politicians. The governor and the mayor also butted heads on almost every issue throughout the “pandemic” and used the citizens of New York as bargaining chips.
A lot of people are hyper focused on the “pandemic” and seem to be oblivious to the issues actually facing New York, perhaps that’s by design by the media and politicians. People will walk past a dozen homeless people passed out on the sidewalk and thousands of pounds of trash without blinking an eye, but as soon as someone without a mask walks by, it’s the end of the world. So I guess my point is, I’d like to see people paying more attention to their surroundings rather than just going through the motions like a masked zombie.
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