Moscow: The Great Empty

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic changed the lives of every inhabitant of the planet. Hundreds of thousands of people died, millions have lost jobs, and billions ended up trapped inside their homes, hiding in fear of an invisible enemy. The pandemic exp... Read More

Sergey Ponomarev

Moscow: The Great Empty

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic changed the lives of every inhabitant of the planet. Hundreds of thousands of people died, millions have lost jobs, and billions ended up trapped inside their homes, hiding in fear of an invisible enemy.

The pandemic exposed humanity’s acupuncture points, uncovered accumulated problems, forced a rethink of our values, and put modern life on pause. The empty streets of Moscow, once a metropolis that never slept, became a visual metaphor for everything we have gone through since the spring of 2020.
But you can see more than just the news from those days in these photos. They show Moscow and Russia’s centuries-old history; they radiate with messages from builders, sculptors, and architects of bygone years.

Every day, I walked 10 to 20 kilometers around my hometown, getting to know its real inhabitants: buildings and monuments, parks, and road junctions. They had been witnesses to wars, fires, and epidemics; they had seen tsars succeed each other, and regimes collapse. Now they were observing the latest dramatic event in the life of our country.

The deeper I immersed myself in the Emptiness and Silence of the granite, metal, wood, and brick, the more acutely I felt the eternity and fragility of living in Moscow. Yes, the city will be there after we are gone. But we are the ones who can preserve or destroy the legacy we have inherited. We alone determine how our time will reflect and fit into the architectural mosaic of history.

Another thought haunted me while working on this project. I had, after all, seen empty cities before. I saw Fukushima after the tsunami. I visited Pripyat, near Chernobyl. I saw Homs completely destroyed in Syria and I saw Mosul in Iraq. Life either never returned to these cities, or it was never quite the same again.

I’m thinking about this now when I go out into the revived and once-again noisy Moscow streets. We’ve been lucky. Yes, the city was put on pause for several months, but now play has been pressed again.

The Great Emptiness and beauty of the capital remain in my photographs. Every one of you can fill the Emptiness with your own meanings, stories, memories, and hopes.

Sergey Ponomarev