Life under lockdown – our photographers on the ground in London, Milan, Hong Kong and Prague

Milano Centrale Railway Station, Lombardy, Italy

Michele Falzone in Milan, Italy

It was the evening of the 7th of march when the lock down was officially announced in Milan, the second city to be “isolated” as a consequence of the drastic numbers relative to the Covid-19 emergency. In a matter of a few hours, amongst the total chaos, a number of increasingly strict measures took place, effectively extending the lockdown first to a few regions and then the whole Country.

Suddenly everyone was temporarily deprived of one of the most important assets of our life: freedom.The freedom to go out with friends, for a drink, a walk, or a meal. The freedom to  visit family and to do whatever activity we’ve always been doing and, for us – travel photographers – the freedom to travel, work and enjoy this lifestyle.

Today, after 7 weeks of nonstop lock down, we have learned a lot of new things about ourselves and each other, changed our social behavior drastically and discovered how precious certain values in life are that we have always taken for granted.

Since the beginning of the quarantine, one of the biggest personal frustrations has been seeing how incredibly iconic places I’ve always wanted to photograph without people around, turned out to be deserted. What a beautiful and surreal sight! Take for instance Piazza Duomo (Cathedral Square) in Milan, always filled with crowds, concert stages, stalls or confusion and paraphernalia in general. The only way to photograph it with very few people around would be at sunrise and even then it would have people or clutter on the square.

Now……Deserted. Surreal. Straight out of a movie set. The Gothic Cathedral sits there, perfect, alone and with its  magnificent chessboard-design churchyard especially visible from above.

Not being able to go in person I thought: why not visit, where possible, some of these places with a drone? The aerial visual, similar to what quarantine has done to us, being able to see things from a different point of view and perspective has allowed us to appreciate and value aspects we have never understood or considered before.

Steve Vidler in London, England

On March 23rd our lockdown in England was announced for a duration of 3 weeks (recently extended for another 3 weeks); all restaurants and cafes closed and we were asked to only go out for supermarket shopping and picking up medicines from chemists, and told to go to out to work only if you could not work from home. London went pretty quiet.

Ironically, especially for England, the weather has been amazing ever since the lockdown began, with plenty of stunning clear sunny days, so I have been out for one or two walks a day shooting the quiet streets of London. But they are not entirely empty; there’s some extra traffic due to the suspension of the Congestion and ULEZ charges, mostly contractors rather than commuters. Some of the shops and restaurants are now boarded up for security reasons so it’s not an ideal time for taking saleable stock photos despite the streets themselves being cleaner than I’ve ever seen them!

On my walks around the city I’ve been challenged a couple of times by the Police but fortunately had no problem after showing them my official press pass – I also now have a Media armband which I wear when I’m out with my camera. I’ve seen the usual parking enforcers still on the hunt for illegally parked vehicles, out on the streets from 8.30am sharp. Their pickings are much slimmer than normal.

Ian Trower in Hong Kong

Walking around Hong Kong during the worldwide pandemic hasn’t been all that different from how it normally looks. Fortunately, the outbreak has so far been controlled pretty well, mostly through public awareness to disinfect hands and surfaces, as well as a willingness to wear a mask as soon as the virus became prevalent in Mainland China. Schools have been closed since beginning of February, more people are working from home, gatherings of more than 4 people are not allowed, restaurants are currently operating at half capacity, and all bars, gyms and karaoke are closed. Luckily, Hongkongers haven’t been locked down – they just need to take precautions when out and about. 

The biggest difference when moving around the city is the absence of tourists from the popular tourist sights. The Peak, the Star Ferry, Nathan Road, the Observation Wheel and Tsim Sha Tsui promenade along Victoria Harbour were almost always bustling with visitors before the pandemic. Now, shops along Nathan Road are shut or empty, the Star Ferry sails with a handful of passengers and the cabins of the Observation Wheel hang empty. 

Life in Hong Kong during the pandemic hasn’t been too bad for me personally, as I’m able to get out to photograph the newly quiet sights with the freedom of setting up my tripod wherever I want! There have also been quite a few clear sunny days – unusual at this time of year – so I’m trying to make the most it before the crowds return after travel restrictions have been lifted sometime in the (not too distant) future. 

Jan Miracky in Prague

The very first case of coronavirus was reported in the Czech Republic on March 2 while I was on a family holiday in Bohemian Switzerland. Ten days later the government declared a state of emergency and closed everything except for supermarkets and pharmacies over the next couple of days. People have only been allowed to travel to work, go shopping, or make necessary provisions for the family. The entire country has been under quarantine with the borders closed since March 16.

Closed borders have had a dramatic impact on work for many travel photographers including myself. At the time of writing, I should have just been back from a 3-week trip to Peru and getting ready for the next trip. Instead, I am obliged to stay at home and there is still no time-frame for when the borders will open again for casual travel. Some authorities unofficially even mention periods such as one or two years.

The Czech Republic got the attention of the world in one aspect of facing the pandemic – home mask sewing. Despite making it mandatory to wear a face protection outside of home, the government wasn’t able to supply a sufficient number of masks for people to use. Therefore inventive Czechs have started to sew them at home. They have ended up giving them away to family members, friends and even medical institutions. Some of the Czech influencers have strongly encouraged people to wear masks outside. „Your mask protects me, my mask protects you” is the motto.

The measures our government has taken have worked well so far and we are working towards flattening the curve. However, tourism in Prague has hit rock bottom. With no influx of tourists, the historic city center is deserted and most popular tourist attractions like Charles Bridge or the Old Town Square seem rather abandoned compared to the regular tourist swarm.

The worst part, for me personally, has been the uncertainty as to when things will get back to a “relatively” normal state. My work, as the work of many others, heavily depends on the tourism industry and as of now nobody knows what’s going to happen and most importantly – when.

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