Binge watch another TV series? Learn a new skill? Clean out closets? Scream into the void? Join another zoom call or happy hour? We have all found ways to occupy time when we would normally have been out and about at museums, sports arenas or concerts, the gym, at restaurants with friends, shopping, and just living life like it was 2019 or any other time before pandemic, coronavirus, and physical or social distancing became part of the everyday vernacular. One day a few weeks into the pandemic slow down, I had to look for a photo in old files and that led me to a new way to occupy the “free time” now available. While browsing files I pulled copies of some photos from around DC into a temporary folder. Most of the photos were taken on a cell phone and were not works of art or to be “Instafamous” but were taken at events or as a way to have some personal digital memory. They were saved in a file and promptly forgotten. To add a destination to allowable “essential exercise” during the pandemic I started biking to the same locations and taking another photo.
This was never a deliberate project that I set out to do when I was taking photos over time and now it merely seemed a simple way to have surface street exercise routes mapped out when bike trails are too narrow and too crowded to maintain a 6 foot distance from other bikers, runners and walkers. I was also rediscovering how nice it is to ramble around in downtown DC when the streets are empty and you can really take in the architecture without running into someone or being in their way.
That everything changes is a given, but as we are evolving with the changes over time it is easy to forget what an area looked like at a specific point in time. Stepping back to compare a spot in two different photos freezing time, I could appreciate and think about the visible physical changes as well as shifts in social interactions with a given place in a city I love.
One thing I have enjoyed most in posting these comparisons on Instagram are the stories that others are willing to share about visiting the same location like The Awakening at Hains Point, frequenting a local hardware store to buy a fishing license, or about childhood memories from a museum visit. The placemaking and different memories we create are what keeps the city vibrant and interesting.
To bring this back to the current situation, I tried to write about changes brought on by the pandemic – what is open, what closed, what the streets were like pre-pandemic compared to in the photo. The two points in time would have always looked different in comparison but the pandemic often adds a more intense layer to visual changes.
I will continue to work on the now and then photos during the pandemic and shut down of regular activities. There are some challenges ahead to find some of the locations. Since these were just photos in passing, I did not take proper historical photos that show exact location with a street sign or building number. Time has elapsed and my memory has faded (a lot!) so if there are not enough locational clues in the photo, finding the exact location is a bit difficult. For example, I biked for blocks and blocks trying to remember where the photo of the knight (shown below) might have been taken. I thought I remembered the general area on Capitol Hill on a lettered street but did not see it as I circled around. If anyone remembers where this one was, let me know! I’d also love to see your now and then photos from this town we call home.
Here’s the full set of now and then photos that Karen has taken so far – it’s an amazing look at the changes in D.C. You can also see more of Karen’s historic and current photos on her Instagram @kareneramsey.
All images copyrighted to Karen Ramsey.