Ox Tucker and Omari Kirk by Jason Acton

New York artists on their hopes and fears of returning to 'normal'

The most social city on Earth is resocialising, but why is everyone still so anxious?

by Beatrice Hazlehurst; photos by Jason Acton
|
04 May 2021, 10:40am

Ox Tucker and Omari Kirk by Jason Acton

With its seemingly endless supply of activities and events, New York is America's unofficial epicentre of socialisation. So when Covid and its subsequent lockdowns hit the city that never sleeps, the city where it’s nearly impossible to be bored, creatives — once New York’s heaviest hitters — were among those hit the hardest. 

For many artists, when the city's glittering lights extinguished, so too did its opportunistic value. Not only do designers, musicians and photographers all draw inspiration from social interaction, but the connections fostered in club bathrooms or rundown warehouse raves can prove among the most productive. Then there’s the day-to-day employment of many struggling artists in service or retail — industries that all but shuttered overnight. Many creatives fled, or were forced to flee: abandoning New York for more familiar corners of the world, new chapters began from old hometowns or more ‘liveable’ cities. 

Those who chose to hold it down — navigating uncertain prospects from Prospect Park and a gritty city devoid of glitzy distractions — are now reaping the rewards of their resilience. A year on, indoor dining has resumed, the vaccine is rolling out slowly but surely, and the lights are turning back on. Yet, ahead of the most social city’s most social summer in memory, many of its young artists are anxious, both about returning to ‘normal’ and what the future might hold. Unlearning Covid consciousness has been tough, but there’s also concern that New York might never be quite the same again. 

As the city prepares to lift its Covid restrictions, photographer Jason Acton and stylist Sho Tatsuishi captured some of New York’s most exciting creatives in the apartments they’ve spent much of the last year living in. Here, we see how they are feeling about socialising this summer and beyond.

ciggaria sitting at the kitchen table with tea and a bright colored shirt on

Ciggaria, 20, stylist

How did lockdown initially impact you — professionally and emotionally?
I was a student when lockdown began, so when schooling went online, it was difficult for me to make the transition and maintain the same motivation or self-discipline. On the bright side, I had a lot more time at home which helped me focus on building my craft as an artist.

How did your social life adjust throughout the various stages of quarantine?
I was lucky enough to have my close circle of friends around me in the beginning, but when things started opening back up again, and I started seeing more people, it was a little difficult for me to be the same social butterfly that I once was. I held my close friends really tight and everyone else seemed so far away. And I think to this day I’m still recovering from that. I don’t know if socialising will ever be the same for me ever again, but I’m always hopeful.

How are you approaching a 'normal' summer? What, if anything, makes you anxious? 
I can struggle with self-discipline sometimes and I question whether I’ll be able to maintain the same focus that I had during quarantine and that makes me anxious. I also trust that things will never truly be ‘normal’ again, and with all the things that I’ve learned over quarantine, neither will I, which is probably for the best. What I’m really excited for though, is just being able to go out with less collective anxiety over the pandemic.

What does a post-Covid New York mean to you? How has the pandemic changed your perception of the city?
A post-Covid New York is a more compassionate New York. We all kinda went through the worst and best of this pandemic together and I think we’re all closer now because of it. As horrible as this pandemic was, and continues to be for so many, in the midst of it all we were able to cultivate a community of care through different forms of mutual aid. I hope to see this sense of community continue and grow in a post-Covid New York. What I love about this city is its endless strength and resilience. New York has a boundless will to not only survive but thrive, and I don’t think that’ll ever change.

candace standing in the doorway of her room with her arms crossed

Candace, 23, marketing

How did lockdown initially impact you — professionally and emotionally?  
Lockdown made me stronger emotionally, by forcing me to be independent. While alone during lockdown I was able to map out the direction I’d like my life to take. My values have shifted and I have a clearer understanding of who I am, what I want and what I am willing to accept emotionally and professionally. 

How did your social life adjust throughout the various stages of quarantine? 
In the beginning of quarantine, I was alone a lot but I tried my best to talk to friends as much as I could while also taking time to spend time with family. As the weather warmed up, I slowly made my way outside and gathered with people. Being able to experience an NYC summer was great, even if it just consisted of rooftops and long walks. Currently, I’m safely experiencing some of the things I’ve missed so much, like inside dining and bar-hopping with friends. 

How are you approaching a 'normal' summer? What, if anything, makes you anxious? 
A ‘normal’ summer excites me — firstly because of the consistently warm weather, but also because I’m looking forward to meeting and connecting with new people. With hopes of a ‘normal’ summer I’m anxious about the chaos that comes with the beginning of larger crowds. 

What does a post-Covid New York mean to you? How has the pandemic changed your perception of the city?
Post-Covid New York means enjoying all the things we had taken for granted: 24-hour trains, sporadic get-togethers, and the ability to be out and about freely at any time of the day without feeling guilty. It’s still an amazing city that offers so much, but with the changing social norms and restrictions on things this city is known for — dining, clubs — has proved New Yorkers willingness to overcome and make the best of any tough situation.

cece lying curled up in her bed in a black tulle dress

Cece Vargas, 22, fashion student 

How did lockdown initially impact you — professionally and emotionally?  
It really put an end to my excitement for new classes and school in general, and just added on new stress and anxiety for what was to come next out of the pandemic. 

How did your social life adjust throughout the various stages of quarantine?
At the peak of Covid, it was very minimal. I was stuck in the house with the same few people not really doing much. But as soon as things started to open up and started to feel a bit normal — getting to see and chill with my friends again — it was way easier to manage.

What excites you most about a 'normal' summer? 
Finally having the opportunity to go out to the beach and pools and amusement parks and finally just be outside with no restrictions at all.

What does a post-Covid New York mean to you?  How has the pandemic changed your perception of the city?
It’s all the same to me really. Having grown up in New York, in more gritty areas, I didn’t see anything that I haven't seen before, whereas for people who’ve moved here for the ‘pretty’, Covid really showed them the ugly. The city has always been kinda hectic and messy and ugly — there’s certain things that hide it well enough at times, but if you pay attention it’s always there.

ox tucker laying on the ground and holding roses up

Ox Tucker, 22, painter

How did lockdown initially impact you — professionally and emotionally?When lockdown started I lost my therapist and access to my medications. In the first month, I couldn’t refill my prescriptions so the pandemic threw a major wrench in my life. I also stopped painting after losing the inspiration for art. I guess I switched into survival mode, cutting down on all that wasn’t immediately necessary.

How did your social life adjust throughout the various stages of quarantine?
The first few months, I was only seeing close friends and taking one meeting once a week. My social circle was disbanded as most of my friends left to live in other cities. Now, though, I am seeing people three to four times a week.

What excites you most about a 'normal' summer? 
I’m just super excited to be able to wear bikinis and go to the beach with the dolls. I’m definitely anxious to be employed again, since I’m leaving school. And I’m also worried that when lockdown eases things will be a lot scarier for Black trans women, but I’m always looking out to protect my community.

What does a post-Covid New York mean to you? How has the pandemic changed your perception of the city?
Post-Covid NYC, I fear, will be trying too quickly to resume normal. There’s a lot we have learned during the pandemic that I hope isn’t cast away for what feels comforting. The pandemic really showed who is for the safety of the people, and who is for the profits. So, NYC has a new energy. I think everyone is just anticipating stretching into all the new spaces in clubbing, art, music, fashion. We want to see all queer people represented (as we are not the easiest-to-consume parts of queerness) and demonstrate the real needs of those that aren’t cis white people.

santiago sitting on the stairs with his arms stretched up and head down

Santiago, 20, musician

How did lockdown initially impact you — professionally and emotionally?
Initially, lockdown slowed down work a bit, but I was still doing shit safely. Emotionally, it definitely forced me to work through (still working on) personal problems that I suppressed and internalised, and really be by myself — which I hated.

How did your social life adjust throughout the various stages of quarantine?
I feel like I was in between wanting to be closer to people I was hanging out with, and wanting isolation to discover a sense of self? But I was mostly with close friends if and when I went out.

How are you approaching a 'normal' summer? What, if anything, makes you anxious? 
Nothing is really exciting me about a ‘normal’ summer. I just hope I’ll be able to travel and be good. The only thing making me anxious is once we get back to ‘normal’ something terribly wrong happens out of nowhere like a zombie apocalypse or some shit like that.

What does a post-Covid New York mean to you? How has the pandemic changed your perception of the city?
New York is just going to be New York. The pandemic didn’t really change my perception of the city, but it did make me realise that people really don’t give a fuck about what’s going on and will just keep on doing them.

omari kirk sitting on his bed and showing off his tattoos by holding his turtle

Omari Kirk, 20, tattoo artist

How did lockdown initially impact you — professionally and emotionally?  
Initially, lockdown impacted me immensely. It was really detrimental to me emotionally, but also beneficial in the way it helped me process things. At the time, since there was so much mass hysteria surrounding the virus, I put a complete halt on everything with regards to my ‘professional career’.

How did your social life adjust throughout the various stages of quarantine?
It went from participating in regular physical gatherings, to wondering if I was ever going to see people again, to strictly interacting through fibreglass screens. At times I felt like I was struggling to stay alive. 

How are you approaching a 'normal' summer? What, if anything, makes you anxious? 
I don’t even know what a ‘normal’ summer looks like at this point, but I’m excited to be one with nature and to go outside again. 

What does a post-Covid New York mean to you? How has the pandemic changed your perception of the city?
I'm not sure — it all feels so confusing sometimes. I’m working on re-learning that pre-Covid hope, but it’s all strange. The pandemic has definitely made the intentions of others a lot more clear to me, and prior to Covid human interaction was really important, so I don’t know what to feel.

ace watkins playing chess and looking directly into the camera

Ace Watkins, 19, stylist

How did lockdown initially impact you professionally and emotionally?
Even though this lockdown had a negative impact on many people, I feel like I’ve found myself and my purpose. This lockdown actually gave me opportunities to help me grow and tap into ‘me’.

How did your social life adjust throughout the various stages of quarantine?
My social life really hasn’t changed since before quarantine. I’m still with the same people, just more cautious. Although, I have been introduced to a lot of great people and great vibes.

What excites you most about a 'normal' summer? What, if anything, makes you anxious?
The most exciting thing to me about a ‘normal’ summer is being outside, enjoying the weather with friends and family without having to worry. But I don't think things will ever go back to being ‘normal’. I think Covid will eventually become the new normal.

What does a post-Covid New York mean to you? How has the pandemic changed your perception of the city?
This pandemic changed how I move around the city now. I don’t do some of the things that I used to do before the pandemic for fear of getting sick. Train cars, busses, etc. used to be packed to the fullest, but now they are barely full. Times are changing.

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Credits


Photography Jason Acton.
Styling Sho Tatsuishi.

Producer Allegra J. Lee
Casting Millen Dang @ Strong Worldwide

Tagged:
NEW YORK CITY
anxiety
Coronavirus