PHOTOS: Virus-era glimpses of a world without humans


AP Photo/Altaf Qadri

Rajpath, India’s ceremonial boulevard is deserted, as India’s Presidential Palace is seen during a lockdown amid concerns over the spread of Coronavirus, in New Delhi, India, April 27, 2020.

Being human, the world of human beings is the one we tend to notice most. The crowds. The interplay of people. The buzz and bustle of what we call daily life.

But sometimes, behind that daily life, another variety of daily life exists. Now it is starting to reveal itself.

For weeks in some places, months in others, swaths of humanity have zipped themselves into hibernation, trying to ride out a viral storm that has killed some and sickened many more. As humans have disappeared into that coronavirus cocoon, though, other things have asserted themselves.

Animals, for one. And emptiness. And, counterintuitively, the majesty of some of the structures that humans have created for themselves.

This past week, Associated Press photographers documenting the era of COVID-19 were dispatched to chronicle a single theme: “Our Majestic World.” The goal: Capture a changing landscape that contains few — if any — humans and showcase the things that, for this moment in history, have taken their place. “Take your time,” these often in-the-moment photojournalists were told. “Work the light.”

Time was taken. Light was worked. The result is this collection of images, unlikely documents of a world on pause — at least, much of the human part of it.

In New Hampshire, a Baptist church and the shops alongside it sit underneath a twilight sky, unbothered by their people. Inside Beijing’s imposing Forbidden City, home to generations of emperors and shuttered by the virus for the moment, a bird is the only sign of animal life visible.

In Russia, during the city’s lockdown, the Moscow River seems like glass. In Washington, never has the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial reflected more purely. Near Soria, Spain, sheep flock on an empty road, unworried about traffic, unbothered by humanity. And along the rocky shore of Narragansett, Rhode Island, a single yellow beacon pierces the blue mist at the edge of a land whose humans are, in huge numbers, sheltering in place, awaiting a more crowded future.

So pause. Look at these images. Breathe them in. Recognize that yes, humans have stamped themselves onto the world, but they are not its only occupants. And see how things look when they withdraw.

Of all these striking, arresting photographs, perhaps the one that speaks the loudest is a glimpse of a major, multilane road just outside of Los Angeles, one of the most diehard driving cultures on the entire planet. Its freeways are never empty, but this one — the 110 Arroyo Seco Parkway leading to downtown LA — reveals utter desolation under a sky of fierce pink clouds.

It feels like a glimpse of a world after humanity has exited the stage. But its emptiness is temporary, as is the emptiness in all of these images. As humanity hunkers down awaits better tomorrows, it leaves behind the two things these images chronicle above all else: nature, and what human beings have built and — for a fleeting moment this time around — left behind.

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  • Waves glow with blue bioluminescence from an algae bloom in the ocean waters as a lifeguard tower sits on a beach still closed in efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus Monday, April 27, 2020, in Del Mar, Calif.

  • A swan swims next to its eight cygnets on a pond in the Vacaresti nature park, an urban protected area, in Bucharest, Romania, Monday, April 27, 2020.

  • Mt. Washington looms in the distance over scenic North Conway, N.H., where most small shops and churches remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic, Sunday, April 26, 2020.

  • Seagulls fly around an empty lifeguard station on Santa Monica State Beach, Friday, April 10, 2020, in Santa Monica, Calif.

  • The Acropolis is lit as the island of Aegina stands in the background and behind it the distant shores of the Peloponnese peninsula Friday, April 24, 2020 in Athens.

  • The Christ the Redeemer statue stands above the Guanabara bay during dusk amid the outbreak of the coronavirus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, April 27, 2020.

  • The Montserrat mountain range outside of Barcelona stands as the sun sets during the lockdown to combat the spread of the new coronavirus continues in Spain, Friday, April 24, 2020.

  • A pack of jackals roam free at Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 23, 2020.

  • Winter Palace and the Alexander Column are reflected in a puddle after the rain at the Palace Square in St. Petersburg, Russia, Monday, April 27, 2020.

  • The Lincoln Memorial is reflected in the still waters of the reflecting pool on the National Mall in Washington before dawn, Wednesday, April 29, 2020.

  • Empty lanes of the 110 Arroyo Seco Parkway that leads to downtown Los Angeles is seen during the coronavirus outbreak, Sunday, April 26, 2020, in Los Angeles, Calif.

  • A deserted street leads to the historic Chase County Courthouse at dusk Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Cottonwood Falls, Kan.

  • The sun sets along the Las Vegas Strip devoid of the usual crowds and traffic after casinos and other business continue to be shuttered due to the coronavirus Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Las Vegas.

  • Icelandic stallions run in their paddock at a stud farm in Wehrheim near Frankfurt, Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2020.

  • The First Baptist Church and small shops remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic, Sunday, April 26, 2020, in North Conway, N.H.

  • A bird flies over the Forbidden City, which is closed to the public due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Beijing, China, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. The Forbidden City is expected to reopen on May 1.

  • Waves wash over rocks as a beacon of light shines across the rocky shore from the Point Judith Lighthouse in Narragansett, R.I., Saturday, April 25, 2020.

  • A flock of sheep move on an empty road near Soria, as the lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus continues in Spain, Monday, April 27, 2020.

  • Shorebirds make their way along the beach at sunset, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Coronado, Calif.

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