In a New York City lockdown, photographer Stephanie Pfriender Stylander points her lens on the desolate streets and discovers an unexpected beauty in its light and shadows
American photographer Stephanie Pfriender Stylander is known for her fashion photography and celebrity portraiture, but last year she found an unexpected muse in her hometown, New York City. A new exhibition at Galerie Sophie Scheidecker in Paris, New York City Lockdown, features a series of her photographs: eerie black and white images where the normally frenetic energy of the city has been replaced by silent, empty streets.
Pfriender Stylander says that a conversation with her gallerist motivated her to photograph this new urban landscape. “A week into the lockdown [last year], Sophie [Scheidecker] and I were on a call discussing the crisis, each asking the other what our cities are like – the people, the mood. ‘It is a time to photograph,’ she said. That was my ‘aha’ moment, and I reacted immediately. I have always travelled to faraway places to walk and photograph unknown streets, but never in my own city.”
In pre-pandemic times, pedestrians and tourists would be crowding the pavements: locals would be walking their dogs, diners would be eating al fresco, and rubbish bags would be piling up on the sides of pavements. Pfriender Stylander’s images have the opposite feel; turning the city into an asphalt apocalypse with stark black and white contrasts. Shadows and light play off each other in some frames, while private cars, buses and taxis simply don’t exist in others.
“I wandered aimlessly following my instinct. I found myself returning to certain places to capture the change of light, to see what was happening on the streets, like I was actually caressing a building, a storefront, a painting, thus becoming a very tender experience,” says the photographer. “Here was this sleeping giant so quiet, stunning and private. I walked this concrete jungle and found poetry in the desolation, the buildings stood handsomely tall, shining in the noonday sun, with no life on the street, people having fled, the metropolis was closed. As if a curtain came down, it reminded me of nocturnal dreams where scenes are familiar yet different, echoing memory and knocking on the door of love.”
Perhaps Pfriender Stylander’s imagery will influence the way New York City will be remembered when people reflect on pandemic life, years from now. The city that never sleeps weathered extremely rough conditions over the last 12 months, and many inhabitants fled or stayed within the confines of their homes. In what she shot, Pfriender Stylander wanted to reveal those sensitivities. “This pandemic event so poignant, with many people experiencing such grief and pain,“ she explains. “In my photographs, I take care of this city in its transformed state. Now stripped bare and abandoned with the camouflage peeled back, I swim in its layers of light, shadow, transparency and reflection, representing the interior layers of us all which are usually hidden and now are lyrically revealed.”
New York City Lockdown opens at Galerie Sophie Scheidecker in Paris from 19 March to 30 April 2021.