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The foundations of the economy are generally invisible, made up of workers who, though omnipresent, remain largely unsung. At this moment of lockdown and fear, when everyone who is able to is working from home or self-isolating, these essential workers—health care workers, sanitation workers, distribution and grocery store workers—ensure that supply chains, manufacturing capacity, and public hygiene remain functional for all of us. Though what they do is absolutely essential, they are also among the most vulnerable members of society in the best of times—and even more so during this pandemic.
The Nation and Magnum Foundation are partnering on a visual chronicle of their untold stories as the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States and the world. Each week, we’ll focus on, and amplify, the experiences of frontline workers and communities who are disproportionately affected by the upheaval—all through the independent lens of image makers whose role in recording, collecting, and communicating stories is especially crucial in a time of collective isolation.
This week, photographer Peter van Agtmael begins the series with the scenes he captured on the streets of New York City the past few days. “Ordinarily, trying to tell [people’s] story through photography would demand physical closeness and emotional intimacy,” van Agtmael says. But “in these times, distance is the most responsible choice. I hope these images convey respect while celebrating their essential and courageous role in our lives.”