For 30 years, Nicora Gangi taught design at Syracuse University. But these days, the retired art professor describes herself as “just a lady with a camera.” Since relocating to Asheville in March — a week before the Buncombe County implemented its stay home, stay safe mandate — Gangi has been photographing a city transformed.
Though a new resident, the photographer is no stranger to the area. Since the early 2000s, she’s regularly visited and exhibited her artwork in Asheville. Not surprisingly, her past experiences here were far different from her current situation. “To basically enter into the gates of silence was really shocking,” she says, discussing her recent move. “Doing the photography has helped me to remember that while the silence may still be here, there are also people still around.”
Over the previous two months, Gangi has captured empty downtown streets, the vacant Asheville Mall and fenced-off parks, along with busy grocery stores and fast-food drive-thrus. Her images reveal masked employees and shoppers, as well as signs promoting safe social distancing practices.
Even as businesses gradually reopen, Gangi believes the pandemic will have a lasting impact on social norms, the same way 9/11 transformed air travel. “I don’t think we realize the extent of what [COVID-19] is going to do to us,” she says. “This is what continues to spur me on. I want to remind people that this wasn’t always the way it was, but this is how it began.”
To view samples of Gangi’s photography, see “Signs of the time: Local images related to COVID-19,” March 27, Xpress.
This article is part of COVID Conversations, a series of short features based on interviews with members of our community during the coronavirus pandemic in Western North Carolina. If you or someone you know has a unique story you think should be featured in a future issue of Xpress, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.