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‘We’re all separate, but we’re still together’: Portraits of New Yorkers in quarantine

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“It’s an attempt to unify the neighborhood”

Courtesy of Johnny Cirillo

As New York life retreated indoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnny Cirillo cruised a drone over Greenpoint. Through its lens, he spotted neighbors dancing on their roofs, exercising in their yards, hanging out on their fire escapes, and generally adapting to the new way of life dictated by the outbreak.

The drone flights started as a way to entertain his two-year-old son, Cassius, by attaching his favorite toy, Buzz Lightyear, and flying him over his north Brooklyn neighborhood. But it soon dawned on Cirillo, a freelance photographer, that the drone allowed him to safely soar into the lives of his neighbors and capture portraits of New Yorkers in quarantine.

He put a call out to his followers on social media, and it wasn’t long before his drone was zipping between Greenpoint, Bushwick, and Ridgewood to capture life during coronavirus.

“It’s an attempt to unify the neighborhood in a way that says, we’re all in this together,” says Cirillo. “I thought it would show that in these dark times, we’re all separate, but we’re still together.”

Courtesy of Johnny Cirillo

The result was a series of 10 photos of New Yorkers reclining on fire escapes, cheerfully poking their heads out of their windows, and lounging on balconies. Each shot took about an hour to curate as Cirillo piloted his drone from a nearby parked car while giving directions to his subjects over speaker phone.

“I like the intimacy of portraits, but this turned into an intimate scene too,” says Cirillo. “I had everyone on speaker saying, ‘Can you hang a leg out the window? Can you lean on your elbows? Step into the light a little more.’ It kind of felt like they were right there.”

Most of the photos are of couples and families; one portrait even features a husband who was unable to rejoin his family in Brooklyn, but FaceTimed in from California.

“I’ve never taken a photo on a drone with someone FaceTiming in,” Cirillo says. “Technology is totally bananas right now. It’s helping keep people sane.”

Courtesy of Johnny Cirillo

Cirillo said he’s received an outpouring of requests for quarantined portraits, but said after his last shoot of three brothers—each hanging out of three separate windows in Bushwick—his camera took a nosedive. A new drone is set to arrive in the next week or so.

Cirillo has yet to decide if he’ll continue with the series or move on to capturing scenes of New Yorkers cheering on healthcare workers each night at 7 p.m. But whatever he does, he hopes his work continues to give New Yorkers a sense of solidarity.

“I hope that this would show people, my neighbors are doing this and I should be too,” says Cirillo. “We all need to walk this road together.”

Courtesy of Johnny Cirillo

Courtesy of Johnny Cirillo
Courtesy of Johnny Cirillo