Our Year on Zoom: A Photo Essay



Photographs by Thomas Dworzak

Zoom, for most of us, arrived last year. And didn’t it feel right on time? Eerily on the button. As if the nine-foot locusts that run the universe, in a spasm of insect whimsy, had given us simultaneously a deadly, denormalizing virus and a new medium of human communication in which to freak out about it.  

Not a flawless medium, by any means. Zoom drained and flattened. It boxed and confined. It got stuck, freezing beloved or not-so-beloved faces into a rictus of electro-smear. Some people got headaches from all the weird shouty talking. From all the nostrilly loomings. From all the being looked at. From all the looking at yourself, because Zoom also involved you, the user, in a kind of reptile staredown with your own Zoom image. (Only once I’d discovered the “Hide Self-View” feature, a month or so into the pandemic, could I settle down on Zoom.)

family with baby and 1st birthday candle
. A family in and around New York celebrates the 1st birthday party of a child in a ZOOM call.

diptych of a grid of a dancers on one side and a woman clapping on the other
Left: Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow practice. Right: Church service on zoom.

But there was poetry in it, too. In the world that we had abruptly entered, Zoom was the poorly lit liminal space—between home and work, between contact and estrangement, between you and not-you. And it helped, no question. Broadcasting from our little Zoom hutches, from our strange dioramas of domesticity, we beat back the infestation of isolation. Business got done. We stayed in touch.

man laughing with zoom background of police car on fire
The online club called Quarantine on ZOOM.

Grid of LA police commissioner talk participants
Los Angeles Police Commission and the LAPD weekly meeting, held days into the nationwide unrest following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN.

a black man on zoom on left and two women holding a candle on right
Online protest and candlelight vigil.

I like the Zoom moments captured here, by the photographer Thomas Dworzak. In their humble aesthetics they seem to confess the inadequacy of the image: the impossibility, the inappropriateness, of an iconic Robert Capa–style shot that crystallizes the pandemic for us. But each one is part of a single, global story: the story of how we managed. And failed to manage. Some of the faces are engaged, alert, present, fully into their Zooming; others are puffy with blankness, not in the mood at all. There are weddings, birthdays, physiotherapy sessions, ballet classes, court dates (the stare of a judge on Zoom is especially august), bursts of activism and testimony. The images are not autonomous. Even the most fabulously random tableau exists within, and depends upon, the blurry continuum of Zoom.

Two men kissing after getting married
A wedding in New York,

diptych a dancer on left in leopard tights and a couple on right huddled in front of a cross
Left: US Presidential election event. Right: Church service.

woman drinking wine and pointing to Georgia election map
US Presidential election night

Have we been changed by all this? Have we been changed by Zoom? “The suburban office park is dead,” I was told authoritatively the other evening by a man who seemed to know what he was talking about. Work habits have shifted. So that might be something. Otherwise, look around—we’re grinding slowly and sulfurously backwards into the regular. Flights are full, traffic is stacking up, the wheels of commerce are turning. Humans, we have missed. But maybe not the planetary weight of humanity. In Dworzak’s collage of images, we see that weight being mysteriously, messily, awkwardly, and somewhat beautifully sublimated. We see it being thrown, for a moment, onto a new plane.

a man dressed as Santa Claus


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