door Ruben Hanssen
Many of the city’s residents have depicted the coronavirus pandemic in photographs and videos of deserted streets, squares, canals, and buildings. Often, they are beautiful, sunny images set against a bright blue sky. They show the splendor of Amsterdam’s world-famous architecture, supplemented with accounts of empty stations, high-tech office buildings, and shopping streets. There is no apparent sign of life, emphasizing the role of the photographer. Some of the contributors state that their photos are also to document the fact that they were alone in the street or on the square in question.
Other pictures show a single individual or a pet. Surreal images of a metropolis that has briefly become private property. Is it perhaps – at least, as far as tourist areas are concerned – a way of reclaiming the city center (consciously or not)? The accompanying texts suggest it is. There are frequent references to finally being able to experience some peace and quiet and to the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the city’s architecture.
The coronavirus has meant pressing the ‘pause’ button, activating a kind of time machine. As the film by Kadir van Lohuizen shows; he cycles through the streets of the city center exactly as filmmaker and photographer Ed van der Elsken had done decades before, in his 1983 film, My Amsterdam. Without the coronavirus, that simply would not have been possible in 2020. Empty Amsterdam breathes a serenity that the city used to experience many decades ago on Sundays, when it was still a day of rest. It does not belong in this day and age at all. This is the age of mass tourism and a steady increase in the population that has turned the city into a 24-hour operation. An age that is forcing us to think about the future. About who actually owns the city. About the imbalance between visitors and inhabitants.
Two months after the ‘intelligent lockdown’, the empty city is now also a thing of the past. It is the logo of the first few weeks of corona in the city. Now, following the easing of the measures, it is history. The big question is how these historic images of an empty Amsterdam can inspire us to improve the balance between the city and its buildings, its residents, and its visitors in the post-coronavirus future of Amsterdam.