Manhattan photographer captures pandemic for 2 weeks in the Little Apple

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MANHATTAN, Kan. (KSNT)– A Manhattan man is taking us back in time through his camera lens, almost exactly a year ago when the coronavirus pandemic first hit the Little Apple.

The year 2020 probably isn’t something everyone wants to take a look back at right now. But in order to not repeat history, we have to see how far we’ve come and how we can do better. That’s exactly the point Luke Townsend is making with his photography exhibit, ‘Two Weeks, Two Cases.”

Townsend is a photographer based in Manhattan. Almost a year ago, he was living the reality many people in the U.S. had to face.

“I became unemployed overnight,” Townsend said. “And I didn’t know what to do.”

But he knew he couldn’t sit around and do nothing.

“I drove back from Kansas City,” he said. “March 13th, which was Friday the 13th of all days, when this happened. And the first real sign for me that things were changing, was the ticket booth. When you go to the toll booths, they were all wearing gloves and masks.”

That Friday, he made his way to Manhattan and stopped at a local grocery store. While all of the panic buying was happening, he noticed a man who was the only person wearing a mask while shopping at a time when masks weren’t required.

“He was a bus driver for our school system here,” Townsend said. “He had just got laid off that day. He started telling me, you know, he came here, he survived the Vietnam War. And he’s like, ‘man, I hope I can survive coronavirus.’ He’s wearing a mask because he knows he’s in that percentage of people that if they get it, he might not survive. So that was my first real look at…something’s going on.”

Thanks to the toll booth and the man behind the mask, his new project took off.

Townsend went around town for two weeks capturing the moments in time Manhattan was turned upside down, as the city was forced to stay inside and make changes so everyone was safe. He was even there when the city got its first COVID-19 case on March 20.

“We were thrown things that we didn’t understand,” he said. “Emotions that we weren’t sure we knew how to process because things were happening so quickly. But it’s just good to kind of look at where we were, how we adapted, how we overcame that. Are we better now, or did we kind of go the other way?”

It may not feel like it, but things are slowly changing a year later and it’s hard to look back on the tough year we all went through. But for Townsend, this exhibit is a time to reflect to move on to better changes for the future.

“It’s not my job to tell the community who they are. They show who they are,” he said. “And this is just the very first two weeks of that happening.”

“Two Weeks, Two Cases” opened on Friday, Feb. 19. You can check it out at the Manhattan Arts Center for a month.

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