As the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic drove the world to do lockdowns and social distancing, it also significantly changed the way we live. Many of the things that were common and everyday quickly became extraordinary. This drastically changed the way photographers worked — street photographers included — and the scenes they were able to capture out in the streets.
Case in point is a street photography project by Caen, France-based photographer and graphic designer Nicolas Rottiers, wherein he shows what his ordinary days now look like.
Capturing the silence of outdoor scenes
“After the lockdown period experienced recently, the most ordinary scenes of life were sometimes extraordinary in this unprecedented context,” said Rottiers in the introduction for his “Ordinary Days” series. His response to this was to capture scenes in his hometown that highlight humans and their intersections with urban geometry.
Black and white street photography proved very effective in achieving this mission. How busy the streets used to be and how empty they became for a good part of this year were even more emphasized by the punchy monochrome and the contrast of light and dark.
This emphasis makes me feel almost like I’m right there seeing and experiencing the city’s deafening silence as well. By including mostly lone subjects in his frame, he also heightens the isolation that both cities and individuals are being subjected to by the ongoing pandemic. The imagery is both dramatic and melancholy.
Finding humans’ interaction with urban geometry
On the documentary side of things, this street photography series is a record of the very strange and often lonely time that our ordinary days have become. However, on the art side of things, the series is also dedicated to the geometric beauty that Rottiers finds in his city and how people now interact with it.
Rottiers’ leaning toward geometric elements even in photography most likely comes from his graphic design background. I see this in the way he frames his compositions and uses elements like leading lines, shadows, and textures throughout the series. I think that being a multidisciplinary artist like this can give you an extra pair of eyes to see something extraordinary in the ordinary.
That said, I enjoy street photography projects that are able to show slices of life in the most creative ways. In challenging times like a pandemic, I think it becomes even more important and compelling. “Ordinary Days,” indeed show snippets of the “new normal,” as its title suggests. But I also feel that it brings us the promise of the beauty that awaits us for the time when the ordinary days revert to what we’re used to.
All photos by Nicolas Rottiers. Used with permission.