COVID in The Capital: Capturing Silence

Photo by Dullahvision
Written by Imani Wj Wright 

Most of you reading this piece are likely reading on a device that has a camera lens, perhaps two or three lenses even (ie. cellphone, laptop, tablet). The camera’s usage and purpose has gone through quite the evolution since its inception in 1816. The first photo in 1826 took a whopping 8 hours to shoot, 13 years later, shooting a single photo “only” took 15 minutes and now we have the ability to shoot more than 1000 photos in under a minute. This monumental invention has allowed us to document some of the world's most impactful moments in ways we could never before. And just as the camera has changed over time, many lifestyles and social norms have been altered as we grapple the COVID-19 crisis. 

With social distancing being ordered around the United States and nonessential businesses now closed, foot traffic has been slowed down in some of the nation’s most iconic locations. Even New York City’s Times Square, which averages approximately 330,000 daily visitors (approx. 50 million annually) has looked like a ghost town. 

The nation’s capital has also seemed deserted in the days of  sheltering in place and 32 year-old photographer and videographer Abdullah Konte, also known as Dullahvision, had the chance to chronicle the beginnings of  D.C.’s social distancing era. His portfolio includes a bevy of Washington Wizards, Washington Capitals, and esteemed musicians. 

Now self-quarantined, Konte reflected on the process and significance of cameramen during this time. 

“We have to realize we’re in a period that will be remembered forever. In my age group, we all know exactly where we were when 9/11 (September 11) happened, the same goes for when Y2K (the year 2000) came around. Those are the top two things I can remember that are close to the situation we’re in now.  These events are polarizing, everyone talks about it, and it affects everybody. What is one of the first things people did when [COVID-19] came around? They went online and started researching the last time something like this happened. They want to pick up videos and photos from events similar to this.” Konte said. “As a photographer and a videographer, you want to be in a position where you have a story that is somewhat different from everyone else.” 

While riding his bike through D.C., Konte captured several telling shots of the country’s, and even the world's, current predicament. Empty streets, empty trains, and areas that are typically “filled with life” were all inanimate. Being a naturally social person, when he did see a few people dispersed throughout the city, his instinct was to ask them if  he could take their photos, but he quickly retracted, remembering the climate. 

Konte decided to mostly document D.C. via video instead of photo in order to retract some of the imagined eeriness. “I wanted to capture [D.C.] through video because it's powerful. It shows more, it tells more,” the photographer and videographer explained.

I asked Konte if the video platform “gave everything more life.” 

“It’s weird that you say it gave it more life, because there was no life in it essentially,” Konte said with a chuckle. “There was such little life around. I didn’t want to get just visual images, but also things happening. [In the video] You saw trees swaying and there was nothing but the wind, just the wind. When you have multiple images together in a 1 minute span, you can tell a lot about what’s going on.”

Just as many people are home right now, Konte is finding several ways to keep his creative juices flowing. He will be documenting his life inside his house in a Instagram he is simply titling “Quarantine.” The photographer is encouraging all creatives to stay active to the best of their abilities during this time, and to be prepared for life once the pandemic is over. You can follow Konte on Instagram @dullahvision. 

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