Conor Mitchell’s coffee-table style book, Lockdown: 100 Days in San Francisco Facing COVID-19, Protests and an Uncertain Future, offers a haunting photo diary of San Francisco during the pandemic.
On March 16th, 2020, San Francisco Mayor London Breed issued a shelter-in-place order to help prevent COVID-19 from spreading. San Francisco became the first major American city to go on lockdown. That same day, without knowing how long the shelter-in-place order would last, when he would return to his job, how long he could pay his bills or if he might catch the virus, 25-year-old Mitchell began taking pictures with his iPhone on daily walks around the city and writing about his feelings. When Black Lives Matter protesters filled the streets, Mitchell documented that as well: “I can honestly say that it was the first and only time I have ever found myself truly afraid during an interaction with the law,” he writes.
The black-and-white photographs —stripped store shelves, empty diners, lonely sidewalks, a hazmat crew outside an apartment, a person costumed as a plague doctor strolling down a sidewalk—were originally meant to be shared with family and friends. But he quickly realized he was “creating a historical record of a time that people would discuss for the rest of my life.” The published results provide a deeply moving portrait of the emptiness, isolation and loss found in a major metropolitan area nearly devoid of people.
The pictures leave out the tragic human toll taken by COVID-19. There are no close-ups of ill people, no hospitals, no grief. Most of the photos are taken from a wide angle, and people are small. More information about Mitchell would also have enhanced the narrative.
Nonetheless, Lockdown is a memorable chronicle of a time when the world stood still. This well-designed offering will appeal not only to photographers, but to readers interested in a tour of what the pandemic looked like in one of America’s most visually striking cities.
Also available as an ebook.