Strange Times: Photos Capture COVID-Era City at the New Haven Museum
Trinity Church on the Green
New Haven, Conn. (September 30, 2021)— By most accounts, by the spring of 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic was unraveling our collective sense of political, social and economic “normality.” In March 2020, New Haven resident Roderick Topping began to casually document that new reality. His striking images will be on view in a new exhibit, “Strange Times: Downtown New Haven in the COVID Era,” at the New Haven Museum (NHM) from October 13, 2021, through March 25, 2022. Register to visit the museum here.
Topping emigrated from Scotland as a child and moved to New Haven in the late 1980s with an art degree from Skidmore College. Notably, after 30 years of photography, the moments he captured in the last 18 months reflect a relatable shift in the history of the Elm City. Living most of his adult life downtown, he had always known the area as a bustling hub of students, workers, academics, businesspeople, tourists, and transients, hosting homeless and well-heeled alike. Exciting, and sometimes troubled, New Haven was rarely quiet. “The COVID era changed all that,” Topping says. “For the first time in my memory the city was silent.”
For Topping, the backdrops of everyday life in New Haven—buildings and alleyways, sidewalks, and sewer grates—gained new prominence as the populace deserted the streets and revealed the skeleton of the city. Many of his photos are black and white, some with an ethereal, cinematic feel evoking the mood at the height of the pandemic: bleak, lonely, and surreal.
The subtle textures in Topping’s work add perspective to where the city is today, parsing the concepts of inequality, health, wealth, poverty, loneliness, and friendship, with images that are recognizable, and yet, at times, disorienting. From a solitary figure shrouded in fog on Elm Street, to the contrasting figures of a masked police officer observing the removal of the statue of Christopher Columbus from Wooster Square, the images show less-familiar scenes of a city in flux.
“Strange Times” Curator and New Haven Museum Director of Photo Archives Jason Bischoff-Wurstle notes, “Rod’s photographs are both architectural and personal, capturing the feel of our city in an unpretentious manner.” He adds, “Rod takes pictures because he loves to, and through that enthusiasm his work stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the historic photographs in the collections of the New Haven Museum taken by previous city residents.”