Nadia Shira Cohen
+May 07, 2020
As the novel Coronavirus ravages Italy, Rome, the Eternal City lies in near silence. A city constantly filled with people empties out with the tram wheels scraping against the tracks and ambulance sirens the only prominent sounds to be heard. Romans live life from their balconies and the ones without homes wander the city desperately looking for help in a city void of any life.
In Italy, the pandemic has been spreading since the end of January, quickly becoming the second-largest outbreak in the world, and the country was the first in Europe to establish strict quarantine measures. Nadia Shira Cohen (@nadiashiracohen) documents Rome during the social distancing regulations in a series of pictures called Eternal Silence. Rome is pictured as a beautiful and severe woman, who grew up and lost her spirit, she stares at us in a creepy silence, creating space for our imagination to travel back in time. The empty streets and beautiful piazzas contain the echoes of the glorious past, evoking the deeds of the roman empire, as well as noisy markets, traffic jams, the warm heartedness of its inhabitants, singing along in the drunken nights of summer in the narrow streets of the city center.
Nadia’s pictures are stunning yet frightening, they recall Edmund Burke’s theory on the beautiful and the sublime. The beauty in its emptiness provokes at the same time a negative emotion produced by the insurmountable awareness of the distance that separates us from it, that insurmountable awareness reminds us of the fact that nothing will be the same. What will life be like after all of this? What are the lessons we will have learned after the crisis has passed? Will we go back to consumerism as if nothing had happened? Will we kiss again? Rome will stay, with her stern gaze, beautiful. She will sing again. But what about us?
Nadia Shira Cohen is a freelance photojournalist contributing to the New York Times, National Geographic, Harpers and many international publications. She works frequently in Latin America as well as countries such as Haiti, Kazakhstan, Congo, Rwanda, and Kosovo, focusing on human rights, reproductive rights, environmental issues, disaster, revolution, and migration. Nadia was born in Boston in 1977. At 15 she received her first camera, in the same moment she was diagnosed with cancer. She began to make self-portraits to document the physical and emotional evolution of being sick as well as to photograph her fellow oncology patients at Mass General Hospital in Boston. A University of Vermont graduate, she began her career in New York City as a stringer for the Associated Press. She became proficient in the photography business, working as a photography agent at Sipa Press and later as the Director of North America for VII Photo. Nadia moved to Rome in 2007 to pursue her own photography where she has been based since, save for a brief period in Geneva while becoming a staff photographer at the ICRC. Her work has been exhibited internationally and she is an IWMF Fellow and a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant recipient for her work on gold mining in Romania.