At this point in history, we’ve become familiar with scenes of empty streets and ghostly cities as the spread of COVID-19 forced countries to implement lockdowns, home quarantines, and social distancing. Surely, travelers who were caught in the middle as the situation was unfolding have some powerful personal stories to tell. During his week-long trip in Paris, Connecticut-based contemporary artist and photographer Grant Yun was able to capture a poignant picture of the French capital as the pandemic took hold of the city in mid-March.
“Traveling out to Paris for the first time with Dana. News of Coronavirus is worsening but seems situations around the world can be controlled,” Grant wrote on his travel diary as they set off on March 10th. In their first couple of days exploring the city, they found it “lively but not filled with tourists” most likely due to the threat of the Coronavirus. ”We had a chance to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre without any lines.”
On March 13th, Grant and Dana woke to the news of a travel ban declared in the United States. “Given that we are both US citizens the ban did not pertain to us but still had us on our toes,“ he said. That same day, they also found out that all museums in Paris closed, yet life in the city seemed as vibrant as ever.
Two days later, their United flight for the 19th was canceled, and the all possible flights from 15th to the forseeable future were already booked. “However, after calling them, I found a way to get us a flight from CDG to FRA (Frankfurt) and then from FRA to EWR (Newark). Unfortunately, our train tickets from EWR had also been canceled due to COVID-19. As a result, once landing in EWR we would have to find a different way back.” March 15th also saw France closing all businesses except for pharmacies and supermarkets. Grant noticed that masks started to become commonplace, and less and less people were on the streets. The next day, the city went into panic.
“Walking down the streets in the morning, there was almost not a person on the street. Yet as we walked by grocery stores and pharmacies, every single one had lines of people waiting to even get inside. Inside the stores, all the shelves were empty. From non-perishables to fresh produce, all the food had been stripped away at every single grocery store we walked into. The tissues, toilet paper, soaps, hand sanitizers, and any other cleaning supplies were completely gone. The people we did see on the street were families packing their cars with suitcase after suitcase ready to leave the city. Cars were lined outside of gas stations waiting for a chance to pump up. With their masks on, people walked swiftly and kept their distance.”
On the early morning of March 17th, Grant and Dana set out to the airport. After waiting several hours, they were finally onboard a plane to Frankfurt. “At this point, not a single person had an exposed face. Whether it was a scarf, an N95, or any other piece of fabric covering their face, everyone in the airport wore a mask,” he recalled. Shortly before boarding the flight to Newark, they were on high alert again. “After being delayed for over an hour we discovered several passengers had been exposed to COVID-19 and had to be removed from the plane. The seats were to be cleaned immediately. With only US citizens onboard, our plane was empty. Several rows of seats in front and behind us just desolate. After a 9-hour flight, we were greeted by the CDC who instructed us to fill out several forms before exiting the plane. Immediately after exiting, we were questioned and had our temperatures taken.”
“The thought of traveling with Coronavirus did not hit us until we reached Paris. At this point in 2020, America had not been hit too hard and Europe as well,” said Grant, most likely echoing the situation for many travelers like them at the time. Still, he took it as an opportunity to make his own chronicle of this unsettling point in recent history. In particular, he wanted to shed light on the “transformation of Paris from the City of Love filled with intimacy, to completely empty streets” — something that he said was a shock to them as would be for anyone.
“Traveling with what was soon to be called a pandemic was a unique feeling of risk and fear. Looking back, while we feared for ourselves being in contact with Coronavirus and also feared for our chances on making it back to the United States, it was exhilarating to witness Paris in a state that we may never see again in our lifetime. I am glad to have had this opportunity to document such a phenomena.”
On the photos shared here, shot with a Canon Sure Shot loaded with Kodak Tri-X 400, Grant considers each of them as an essay’s worth of content to be written about. “The emotions on each person’s face was shown even through the masks they wore. The transformation of Paris made the city feel as though it had a mind of its own.“
Joy is a writer, film photographer, and part-time traveler from Manila, Philippines. She finds bliss in exploring whatever surrounds her and documenting it in photos and stories. She runs on caffeine, lives on books, savors good music, and thrives in everything creative.