On March 9th, 2020, Mayor de Blasio announced 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York City. On Friday the 13th, I made an entry in Delayering, a text reflecting the aftermath of 9/11. The entry recorded that the nascent virus, which arrived in New York from Europe, was expected to have a significant impact on the scale of the 9/11 attacks. By the end of that week, it was projected to be worse.
The need to capture and record what was going on around me arose again, as it did after 9/11, which at the time was the largest disaster people could imagine coming to town. I started to write daily. There was no plan for what became The Covid Entries, though I recall not wanting to start something new; my list of unfinished projects was already substantial.
I considered compiling an essay with a daily photo and sending the pair, every other day, as an “entry.” On April Fool’s Day, an invitation to receive The Covid Entries was sent to a few longtime Box 3 readers and those who reached out with messages of worry) about conditions in New York. The incoming calls reminded me of the days shortly after 9/11.
The first entry was sent on April 4th with a lapse of 19 days between the recorded date and the send date. A week later, on Easter Sunday, the first “Special Entry” (SE) was sent. It included photos of boarded-up stores in Soho. Additional “Special Entries” were sent without delay between recording and sending throughout The Covid Entries project.
The 19-day delay and every-other-day mailing cycle caused the gap between initial recording and sharing to increase; reading the entries evolved from almost news, to recent history. On May 27th, “Special Entry-mid” was sent, marking the midpoint of the mailings. With the final entry already recorded on May 7th, a spring break was announced. After the break, the mailings would be sent every fourth day.
As millions of people watched the slow-motion execution of Mr. George Floyd on their phones, everything changed—yet another shock to our system, even more unexpected than the pandemic. It is impossible to decouple the fallout of that (all too common) killing of an unarmed black man from whatever tenderizing effect the pandemic already inflicted on the population.
After two-and-a half-months of dramatic quiet, looting started. The New York City Police, the largest police force in the world, stepped up quickly—but not as quickly as storefronts were boarded up.
Neither the police nor the boarding were very effective in the early days. On the morning of June 1st, a lot of people were out taking pictures in Soho including the press, who were there in force to document the aftermath of a night of extensive looting.
In less than three days the hushed city refashioned itself in response to another rapid and unimaginable change, again at a colossal scale. A nearly endless amount of clean plywood appeared all over the city, all too late for its intended purpose. All of that new clean boarding provided perhaps the largest blank canvas the world has ever seen.
Impressed by the impromptu paintings that appeared and encouraged by the new more relaxed mailing schedule, a totally unexpected series, The June Pictures, was born: photographs of the paintings were sent on the open second days when a Covid Entry would have appeared during the original two-day mailing cycle.
For the first time in its more than forty years, Box 3 Productions had two distinct-but-related projects being shared simultaneously. The mailings continued through the summer, alternating between The Covid Entries and The June Pictures.
“Covid Entry 52” was sent at the end of October, and the Special Entry, Joker, was sent on December 1st . Regular mailings of The June Pictures continued every fourth day until November 1st. The final June Picture, along with an archive, was sent on December 1st, 2020.
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