On the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic in New York
A fire department paramedic is working to resuscitate a patient who has suffered cardiac arrest. He reaches for the stretcher and drips in a sweat as he delivers chest compressions with absolute determination and intensity. His mask is worn so tightly that the wearer grimaces. Eyes focused. Vitale watched closely. A scene so well known in movies, but this is the Queens Hospital Center in New York City during the Covid-19 crisis. For many of us, this photo of Philip Montgomery was one of the first times we saw what was happening in a hospital during the pandemic.
Montgomery worked for the New York Times Magazine for two months, visually drawing a city that was badly affected by the coronavirus. Everything was recorded, from restaurant owners who were in uncertainty to provisional test centers. However, the critical story lay behind the doors of the public hospital system. Montgomery's scenes are urgent, overwhelming and testify to the enormous situation. What these photographs have in common is their unique ability to find moments of silence in chaos. He shapes every frame with severity and elegance. In addition, its lighting brings a heavenly quality that activates the audience and draws attention to omnipresent details that may otherwise remain invisible. Together these elements make it impossible for the viewer to look away. With Montgomery, you'll feel like you're standing right next to him in the hospital.
It has been a few months since these pictures were taken and Montgomery is only beginning to unravel the lasting effects of what he has seen. Here he shares how he approached and managed the inherent risk and pressures while documenting one of the most important stories of our lives.
GF: As the pandemic hit, you were asked to do a permanent job for the New York Times Magazine, which is working on Covid-19 coverage in New York City, which quickly became an epicenter of the outbreak. As part of this project, you covered seven hospitals in six days during the virus peak. How did you prepare for the mission psychologically? And how did it feel to go to that first hospital on the first day?
PM: When these stories come up, you focus so much on the enormity that your psychological headspace is thrown out the window. For me it is important to feel this wave of energy and emotions and then to guide them back into work.
The first day in the hospital was one of those rare cases where it was what I imagined and a lot more. The first hospital I went to was in Queens, and the scene was mostly overwhelming – dare I say it, apocalyptic. They were beds, on beds, on beds, on beds. Not because of the condition of the hospital, but because of the sheer volume of New Yorkers who had been hospitalized for Covid. It really held me up, and I rarely get confused about this type of work.