New photography exhibit captures pandemic life and the cityscape

What was once an empty gallery space last year now houses Roderick Topping’s “Strange Times: Downtown New Haven in the COVID Era” photography exhibition.

Brian Zhang

1:40 a.m., October 14, 2021

Staff reporter

Wikimedia Commons

On Wednesday, the New Haven Museum, located at 114 Whitney Ave., opened a new exhibit that features excerpts of the pandemic’s impact on Elm City in 36 photographs.

The exhibit, titled “Strange Times: Downtown New Haven in the COVID Era,” has photos of cityscapes, people and local buildings by New Haven-based artist Roderick Topping. His project capitalized on the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Haven, with the exhibit featuring works dating from early March 2020 through September of this year. The exhibit opened Wednesday at 10 a.m. and will be open to the public until March 25, 2022 on the top floor of the museum.

“Everyone’s stories matter. Especially in a community of this size, your own story is the story, and there is no small story,” Jason, director of the museum’s photographic archives. Bischoff-Wurstle noted. “You look at what the everyday is and how it becomes history.”

According to Topping, the photographs were more of a documentary on the city’s rapidly changing culture during the pandemic than a commentary on specific sociopolitical themes. He hopes future New Haveners and museum visitors will examine “this record of time and existence” and remember how COVID-19 has impacted all facets of the city.

The photographs feature local bars, residents, restaurants and street corners as well as Yale University. They capitalize on the emptiness and grim reality of the city as it struggles to navigate a pandemic world, a stark contrast to the bustling community of people and passengers that “the homeless and the rich” once knew, according to Topping.

Like other visitors, Bischoff-Wurstle felt a personal connection to the works. He spoke of the unique feeling he identified upon seeing a photo of familiar neighborhood buildings that have now been repurposed for other uses.

Although Topping said he originally shot all the photos in color, he desaturated most of them during the editing process to achieve a monochrome effect, which he said represented “how I think I will remember those days: dark, lonely and surreal.” ”

Cailin Hoang ’25, who attended the exhibit on its opening day, said Topping’s choice of colors and decision to feature everyday places “really stopped time.” Every detail is accentuated, and viewers are drawn to every crack in every building and every aspect of what’s depicted — “whether it’s physical or visceral,” Hoang said. She added that viewers will feel abandoned and alone watching these photographs, which will help them better grasp the reality of what it was like to live during a pandemic.

According to Topping, the collection started as a personal project. The photographs were taken during his daily walks around the city center and were uploaded to his social media accounts, where they later received positive feedback from Bischoff-Wurstle and other local residents. Although he said the current collection represents a comprehensive snapshot of a specific moment in the pandemic, he hopes to expand the project to reflect the uncertainty of pandemic life.

“The city, the country is changing rapidly…and there’s no sign of things slowing down to a calm pace,” Bischoff-Wurstle said. “I say take a step back and ask questions. What’s going on? What are our feelings about this?

The “Strange Times” exhibit follows standard admission prices and museum hours of operation, which can be viewed on the New Haven Museum website here.


Brian Zhang covers COVID-19 and Yale New Haven Health, as well as housing and homelessness. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, he is a student at Davenport majoring in English and creative writing.

Tracey L. Sweeney