New York Stilled Life

Gregory J. Peterson ’73, LAW’85 captured the “unique interlude” of the city in lockdown.

Two years ago this month, New York City was America’s number 1 Covid-19 hot zone, and the streets emptied as all but essential workers stayed home. As winter passed into spring, normally bustling cityscapes and neighborhoods were uncannily absent of activity. New York Stilled Life: Portrait of a City in Lockdown, by Gregory J. Peterson ’73, LAW’85, offers a poignant visual record of this historic urban quiet.

Gregory inset

Peterson snaps a silent Fifth Avenue.


Peterson, a corporate attorney and native New Yorker, got the idea for his photographic mission in late March 2020, when he ventured out for a walk one evening from his home on the Upper West Side. He came upon the plaza at Lincoln Center, strikingly barren of people. “It took me a moment to come to terms with what I was seeing; for its implications to sink in,” he writes. “Amidst all the disruption of the pandemic, here emerged a tranquil, elegant vista one might only see in a drawing. I had to know if there were other city landmarks revealed in this unthinkable denuded state.”

Over the following several months, Peterson went out on his bicycle every day to capture views of the empty city. He took all of his photos with his 12MP iPhone 11 Pro; nothing was staged, and no people were removed.

The collection is a bracing, but beautiful, time capsule. In the book’s foreword, Barry Bergdoll ’77, GSAS’86, the Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History, writes, “To witness, in Peterson’s photographs, the places on the tourists’ must-visit list devoid of all but avian life provides a sensation at once surreal and familiar.”

Here, as in his book, Peterson’s photos are arranged loosely from north to south, “almost as if you were talking a long walk or bike ride from Harlem to the southern tip of Manhattan.”

St John the Divine

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.
Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020, 3:29 p.m.


Alma Mater with Butler Hall 04-19-20 0734AM

Columbia University Campus with Alma Mater and Butler Library.
April 19, 2020, 7:34 a.m.

72nd Street

West 72nd Street seen from West End Avenue.
April 15, 2020, 8:40 a.m.

Met Museum

The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
April 15, 2020, 8:19 a.m.


Bethesda Fountain with Emma Stebbins’s Angel of the Waters, Central Park.
April 15, 2020, 8:30 a.m.

Sheeps Meadow

Sheep Meadow, Central Park.
April 30, 2020, 3:32 p.m.


The New York Public Library, Rose Reading Room.
May 24, 2021, 1:40 p.m.

Washington Square

Washington Square Arch.
April 18, 2020, 6:42 p.m.

Copyright © 2021 Gregory J. Peterson. Reprinted with permission.