Photographs of crowds in London and New York before the pandemic

For his 2020 photo book, Something that used to be so familiar becomes distant, photographer Jermaine Francois captured the city of London in the midst of a pandemic. Scenes of people lounging in parks and walking alone through once crowded, now lonely streets littered with old mattresses and moldy bread were photographed from March through November.

Then, for iD’s The Faith in Chaos Issue, he shared photos of the same city the day before the first lockdown, the bewildering sense of confusion that gripped the capital as this strange new virus persisted. “Suddenly there was a change in the air, an ominous atmosphere of anxiety and insecurity could be felt on the streets of London,” Jermaine said. “Where once there was clarity, now there was the unknown.”

a man in a hi-vis jacket handing out magazines on a busy street

Now in his new book released earlier this week titled Rhythms of the Metroplex, Jermaine returns to those bright days before the pandemic via a series of still images taken on the busy streets of London and New York between 2017 and early 2020. In the footage of New York, pedestrians, school children and shoppers weave between incoming traffic and the city’s iconic yellow taxis. In London, shoulder-to-shoulder crowds form at railway crossings and underground entrances, with commuters periodically alternating between looking at their phones and the world around them. While on one page the streets seem to have calmed down, on the next a person stands a few inches from the lens.

Jermaine was decisive in the places he chose: “In street photography, New York and London have historically always had a strong presence… They are melting pots of culture in space, the people walking around and the noise. In both cities, there is a sense of movement and chaos as individuals, each with their own direction and destination, navigate this space, their paths often clashing. But Jermaine noticed a few differences. “London is, in some ways, a little quieter compared to New York. NYC is a bit faster and more hectic. But both have their moments of peace and space. It’s a rhythm that can have both of these elements.

a man stands on the road in new york as people walk past
a man stands on the road in new york as people walk past

There is also a rhythm to the movement in the book, and at times flipping through the pages feels like watching a stop-motion. “Imagery is informed as much by cinema and still images as by the photographic image,” Jermaine says, also noting that he was reading Henri Lefebvre’s book. Rhythm analysis and listen to Detroit Techno while making the images: “I like unconventional rhythms and futuristic sounds. [of Detroit Techno]. It helped me in this process.

Such movement is noticeable on four pages of the book as we see a child walking along a busy road before preparing to sneeze, tilting his head and wrinkling his face as he covers his nose with his glove. , before casually resuming his walk as he disappears. out of frame. “I wanted it to look like it was built like a movie theater, but with the tension of real life.”

a man wearing a beanie looks at the camera while an older man looks at his phone

Of course, a sneeze or cough in public now elicits a different reaction in public. However, when Jermaine took these photographs, he did not realize that they would be a document from a time so far removed from our present reality. “The book is [only] on pre-pandemic life because of the context we find ourselves in, ”he says, noting that his original plan was to continue the series into 2020 before the pandemic occurs. “However, it was always about the energy of the city, how we negotiate this urban space – which is not neutral – and how it affects the inhabitants. These everyday stories, but also intermediate moments.

Jermaine acknowledges that these everyday moments now have “a different sensitivity to storytelling” that didn’t exist before, and it was only when he revisited the images in December 2020 after finishing his previous book that he resumed the models within the images, their rhythm and their energy. “I think in a way it was a little ‘wow, are we going to come back to this? When am I going to experience this energy again? ‘ It made me realize how much I loved the city. [It has] an innocence. Maybe in the long run it could come back.

a large crowd of people queuing for something
a large crowd of people queuing for something

The book also deals with those seen and unseen in the cityscape. “It’s all about visibility,” Jermaine says. “How people can be made invisible in an everyday environment.” It shows the magazine vendor outside Bank underground station in London, wearing a high visibility jacket. In each of the stills, people are constantly changing – a woman wearing a tartan scarf and olive pea coat in the middle of one shot has disappeared in the next – but the salesperson remains a constant, holding out the magazine to the same spot in each frame. to be ignored, at one point even overtaken by a seemingly oblivious commuter. In another scene from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in New York City, a man blends into pedestrians as he waits at a railway crossing. But when the lights change, he unusually stands out in the road as he speaks openly to those around him, staying in the scene as everyone passes, actively ignoring or avoiding his message.

Not everyone is usually made invisible. There are also those who are hyper visible, with Jermaine describing how he was racially profiled on the streets of London during the creation of the book. “I grew up in the 80s and 90s, so profiling is nothing new to me. This is part of the residue that occurs when you are black. In some ways being on the streets isn’t neutral and it reminded me, in hindsight, how vulnerable you can be in that situation.

a man stands on the sidewalk near a railway crossing and talks to strangers walking past

The moment is captured in the book and we see a policeman staring into the camera lens from a slight distance in one photo before approaching another. “There were other photographers who took pictures, but it was me who was selected,” he says. “These judgments are made in everyday life, depending on class and gender as well as race. In some ways, these images act as a low level metaphor for it without being didactic. “

Not being didactic is a key part of Jermaine’s larger work, and although the book documents moments intrinsic to the problems of today’s world, he has no expectations of what readers of his book should be. Pull. “I hope they enjoy the ride but also find these threads and meanings in these images.”

With shops and clubs now open in London and New York, and festivals, concerts and events slowly picking up, crowds are once again a part of everyday city life, whether we are all right with them. or not. However, their energy will necessarily be different: as Jermaine pointed out, the Covid is now engraved in our collective memory. So what will the energy and rhythms of a photo book look like on post-pandemic life in a metroplex? “I don’t know. The beauty of life is that your predictions are never really how it’s going. That’s also why I love photography. Like life, it’s never really static.

‘Rythms from the Metroplex’ is available for purchase now from Atelier Jermaine François.


All images courtesy of Jermaine Francis

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