COVIDFilm & Photography

Photos of a Closed Down San Francisco

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Guest Post by James Conrad

My name is James Conrad, and I am a photographer living and working in San Francisco, California, with one principal focus of my craft being live musical performance.

On Friday, 16 March 2020, I was at the Mechanics’ Institute, a private library located at 57 Post Street, taking inventory of some still and video captures of a friend’s band’s performance. At approximately five-fifteen p.m., I had just finished uploading the content to Dropbox. Only a few short seconds later, my email account pinged with a notice from The Mechanics’ Institute that declared that due to the developing coronavirus emergency, they would close at six and would remain so through the end of the month. Soon afterward, numerous other places would follow suit, particularly bars, entertainment venues and most retail stores.

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Many grocers remained open, but with reduced staff and scaled back hours of operation. Most restaurants remained open, but their services were reduced to take-away dining only.

On the day I finished my work just under the mark, there were 40 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in San Francisco, according to Within two weeks, the number had jumped to 374, a nearly tenfold increase.

Because I had been keeping busy with creative pursuits like writing, playing guitar and photography for many years, I dreaded the notion of being stuck in a purgatory of forced inactivity. In the interest of finding an available outlet for my passion, I began documenting the scenery, showing how the pandemic and resultant shelter-in-place order has rendered us disconnected from our usual comfortable routines, our favorite places, and especially from each other.

To say the least, it was surreal to see how the pandemic changed San Francisco overnight. Whereas the usual popular night spots in North Beach and the Castro District would be lively on weekend nights, this time, they are silent and vacant. Before the pandemic, crowds would gather around the cable car stop at the intersection of Powell and Market Streets on any given afternoon, eager to take a ride and experience the nostalgia. However, when I captured the photo on 10 April, the crowds were conspicuously absent, and the Gap location had its windows boarded up.

Even though the change is temporary, I doubt I might completely acclimate to it, and I am not sure that any improvement to the situation will absolutely return things to the way they were.

In time, things will be better. But it will never be as it was before.

Click the photos below to see them enlarged:

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