New photography exhibition captures pandemic life and cityscape
What was once an empty gallery space for the past year now houses the photography exhibition “Strange Times: Downtown New Haven in the COVID Era” by Roderick Topping.
On Wednesday, the New Haven Museum on 114 Whitney Ave. opened a new exhibit that displays snippets of the pandemic’s impact on the Elm City in 36 photographs.
The exhibit, titled “Strange Times: Downtown New Haven in the COVID Era,” has photos of cityscapes, people and local buildings by New Haven-based artist Roderick Topping. His project capitalized on the earlier months of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Haven, with the exhibit displaying works dating from early March 2020 to September of this year. The exhibit opened at 10 a.m. on Wednesday and will be available to the public through March 25, 2022 on the museum’s topmost floor.
“Everyone’s stories matter. Especially in a community of this size, your own story is history, and there’s no small story,” Museum Photo Archives Director Jason Bischoff-Wurstle said. “You look at what the day-to-day is and how that becomes history.”
According to Topping, the photographs were more so a documentary of the city’s rapidly changing culture over the pandemic than commentary on specific socio-political themes. He hopes that future New Haveners and museum visitors will look at “this record of time and existence” and remind themselves of just how much COVID-19 has impacted all facets of the city.
The photographs feature local bars, residents, restaurants and street corners as well as Yale University. They capitalize on the emptiness and grim reality of the city as it struggles to navigate a pandemic world, a stark contrast from the bustling community of people and transients that both “the homeless and wealthy alike” once knew, according to Topping.
Like other visitors, Bischoff-Wurstle felt a personal connection to the works. He spoke to the unique feeling he identified upon seeing a photo of familiar neighborhood buildings that have now been repurposed for other uses.
Though Topping said that he had originally taken all photos in color, he desaturated most of them during the editing process to achieve a monochromatic effect, which he said represented “how I think I’ll remember these days: bleak, lonely, and surreal.”
Cailin Hoang ’25, who attended the exhibition on its opening day, explained that Topping’s color choice and decision to showcase everyday locations “truly stopped time.” Every detail is accentuated, and viewers are drawn to every crack of every building and every aspect of what is being depicted — “whether it’s physical or visceral,” Hoang said. She added that viewers will feel abandoned and lonely looking at these photographs, which will help them better grasp the reality of what it was like to be living during a pandemic.
According to Topping, the collection started out as a personal project. The photographs were taken during his daily walks downtown and were uploaded to his social media accounts, where they later received positive feedback from Bischoff-Wurstle and other local residents. Though he said that the current collection represents a complete snapshot of a specific time during the pandemic, he hopes to expand the project to reflect the uncertainty of pandemic life.
“The city, the country is changing rapidly … and there isn’t a sign of things slowing down to a calm pace,” Bischoff-Wurstle said. “I say take a step back and question. What is going on? What are our feelings on this?”
The “Strange Times” exhibition follows standard admission rates and museum hours, which can be viewed on the New Haven Museum website here.