Artists imagine post-apocalyptic world in terms of empty cities

Two artists from France have put together a collection of photographs that feature famous city settings – with no people:

In Silent World, artists Lucie and Simon have taken the world’s most familiar and populous cities and removed all but one or two people to create the illusion of a lonely world.

In the thought-provoking work, places like the normally bustling Times Square and Tiananmen Square appear absent of their crowds.

Lucie and Simon are a duo of artists based in Paris, France, who have been working together since 2005.

According to their website, the award-winning artists focus on blurring the line between reality and fantasy in their work.

The pictures are interesting and there is even a video with the photographs and some ominous music.
But I’ll be honest: I don’t find these photos to be too jarring. There are two other forms in which I think these scenes are much more powerful:
1. Post-apocalyptic movies do a decent job with this. However, I think too many of them go for the destruction angle rather than the emptiness angle. Additionally, they often try to drive home the point too much with things like eerie music and/or loud wind noises.
2. Real life. While these artists have removed people and vehicles, you can approximate some of this in places by walking or driving around very early in the morning. That way, there is still some light but there may be no one else around. This can be very strange: the buildings are around and it looks like there should be activity but there is no one there. Or another example: walking through the Loop in Chicago later at night. Without the business activity, it is a lonely place.
What would be most disconcerting in these scenes if you were there all day by yourself. I’m reminded looking at these pictures that many of these cityscapes are not built to a human scale. For example, a lone person in Times Square without people around is simply dwarfed by the buildings. It is not just about being alone; it is also about the massive buildings around you that make you feel insignificant. Similarly, large plazas or wide highways are also not often conducive to human activity but we forget some of this when they are full of people. It reminds me of Jane Jacob’s work in The Death and Life of Great American Cities: it is more human-scale neighborhoods that people flock to anyway, not downtowns and their skyscraper canyons. In a post-apocalyptic world, people will look for other people and the majority of New Yorkers don’t live in places like Times Square. What might be even more jarring would be walking around an empty Greenwich Square.

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