A Look at the Empty Streets of Paris During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has led to massive shutdowns across the world, with the everyday lives of many people coming to a complete stop. Paris is one such city, with its historic and vibrant streets now standing quiet and devoid of much of the life that normally fills them. This video explores the city and shows just how remarkably different it is due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

The New Yorker recently shared the short film that shows many of the historic city's landmarks that are normally packed with tourists and everyday life standing in eerie silence. France has been hit very hard by the pandemic, with over 17,000 deaths as of April 15, with only Spain, Italy, and the United States recording more deaths. Perhaps the most striking shot for me was the Arc de Triomphe. I spent a week in Paris in 2013, and one of my best memories is standing in the narrow median of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and taking a long exposure of the Arc de Triomphe while walls of traffic and tourists whizzed by and the sidewalks buzzed with life. Seeing that place so utterly empty is quite surreal and certainly something I never thought I would see. Check out the video above for more. 

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11 Comments

Yan Pekar's picture

I understand that some people are not willing to follow the "quarantine" rules (I cannot stop them from going out, I can only ask them to think of lives of other people if they do not care about their own life), and are willing to take the opportunity of shooting empty streets without people, when no one is there to "ruin the shot". Please consider this when you are thinking of going out to shoot during lockdown or when you want to share the photos / videos of empty cities: you may not be aware of it, or you did not care to think about it, but for many people who have been staying at home for weeks now, seeing empty streets of the city they love is very upsetting and depressing. Showing it to them just adds another layer of stress and anxiety. Put yourself in shoes of people who are locked down for weeks, and who see someone walking around and taking photos / videos of them "documenting history" (without asking for their permission). Would it make them happy? People have enough stress by being locked down. Do you really want to make people feel worse? If you do not care about strangers, consider thinking if you want to do it to your family.

David Pavlich's picture

I hope that the people that are stressed about seeing empty streets have turned off their radios and TVs and have stopped reading the newspaper. And have pulled their window shades shut. An empty street pails in comparison to what the news brings us.

Yan Pekar's picture

For most people being locked down TV and radio ar the only connection they have with this world.

Rob Davis's picture

Please stop promoting all the “empty streets” sets. It only encourages people to go out and recreate the same types of images.

David Pavlich's picture

And this is a problem because.... If photographers aren't violating any of the mandates, then why should we care about a bunch of empty street photos? Maybe all those people taking macros of jumping spiders should stop. There's certainly plenty of them.

Alex Cooke's picture

I think it's a fine line, honestly. I don't encourage anyone to violate any stay-at-home orders or do anything responsible. On the other hand, if the opportunity arises to document this in a safe manner, I think it's important that we do so, as we're currently living in an important historical moment.

Yan Pekar's picture

There are times when we (photographers) should put our ego down. Today we are not an "important" service. Before saying that "it is important that we document history", please consider thinking about people, those who currently suffer. Millions of them. You may consider reading my full comment above. To cut it short: "for many people who have been staying at home for weeks now, seeing empty streets of the city they love is very upsetting and depressing. Showing it to them just adds another layer of stress and anxiety. Put yourself in shoes of people who are locked down for weeks, and who see someone walking around and taking photos / videos of them "documenting history" (without asking for their permission). Would it make them happy? People have enough stress by being locked down. Do you really want to make people feel worse? If you do not care about strangers, consider thinking if you want to do it to your family. Please think about people first before thinking "wow, this is amazing opportunity, streets are empty, I will capture the history and would become famous". No. The chance that you would make people suffer and increase their stress level is much higher.

Rob Davis's picture

I do appreciate that argument, but I don’t think there’s been much posted on photography blogs that will meet that criteria. You could take most of these same photos on Christmas morning when roughly the same number of people are at home in Europe and the US. Lone cyclists. Single elderly lady walking up a flight of stairs. Hardly newsworthy. The New Yorker must be really desperate for content right now.

Rob Davis's picture

Contrast those images to the type of historical images we actually look back on.

Alex Cooke's picture

That's definitely a good point and a perspective I'll keep in mind going forward! Always good to chat with you, Rob!

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

One of my pleasures in normal times is to take photos before sunrise on sunday mornings. Even the touristic places are deserted. A photographer did that for London on Christmas morning some years ago. I think showing empty cities is more aesthetic than journalistic. I'd expect from photographers to be responsible and let the press agencies to cover all aspect of this crisis, as I hope they have some protection to protect themselves and others.