Photographing Boston under COVID-19: A Personal Vision in Black-and-White
Striking images by COM’s Edward Boches capture city’s hauntingly empty streets
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut Boston down in mid-March, Edward Boches grabbed his Leica Monochrom camera and jumped on his folding bicycle.
Over the next few weeks, the College of Communication professor of the practice, advertising, made dozens of black-and-white images that capture the eerily empty streets and sidewalks throughout the city during the height of the pandemic. He visited places at times they would normally have been crowded, like the Mass Avenue Bridge at 8:45 on a Tuesday morning.
“I was cycling down the Cambridge side of Memorial Drive, and got to that intersection, and there were no cars coming from Boston and no cars going to Boston,” Boches (COM’76) recalls. “I leaned my bike on the edge of the road and walked into the middle of the street—a little tentatively, because you expect there’s going to be cars. I got down on my knees and took a few photographs.
“I looked at what I had taken, and I didn’t love it. And there was still no traffic, maybe one car in those five minutes. So I sat down on the double yellow line and composed that photograph exactly the way I wanted. And when I sent that to a few people, the reaction was, ‘You’ve got to be kidding! How can that be?’”
Boches is former chief creative officer at the top-tier Mullen ad agency (now MullenLowe), which he helped lead for 30 years before joining BU in 2012. He’s been taking pictures since he was a COM journalism undergrad—his daughter, Sarah Huan Boches (COM’20), is a film and television grad—but photography has bloomed into a daily creative outlet in recent years.
“There’s one of Downtown Crossing—it was a gorgeous, warm, sunny Saturday afternoon, and there was nobody within the frame of a 28mm lens. It was uncanny. It almost looks fake, it looks like a movie set,” he says. “When we see these places with no people in them, we see them very, very differently. The photos work that way for me—I see the city that I live in, that I love and hang out in, in a very different way.”
When we see these places with no people in them, we see them very, very differently. The photos work that way for me—I see the city that I live in, that I love and hang out in, in a very different way.
You can see more of the images in the series Boches calls Somewhere along the Curve: Boston in the Age of the Pandemic at bochesphotography.com. He and four other local photographers—Margaret Lampert, Jeff Larason, Coco McCabe, and Juan Murray—are also sharing their visual interpretations of the pandemic in an online gallery at pandemicboston.com.
Boches has taken hundreds of images so far, and he is continuing to document the next phases of recovery, if not quite as steadily as during the first weeks of quarantine. When galleries reopen, he plans on exhibiting the work as a solo show or part of a group exhibition with the others on the pandemic Boston site and publishing a companion book as well.