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Marni Fogelson on finding a pre-pandemic world in Herb Robinson's photography.
During quarantine, I’ve been seeking out art that encourages stillness and highlights quiet moments of peace. In “Relaxing in Central Park,” a photograph by Herb Robinson, a couple lies on the grass. The woman is resting on her back while her male companion is comprised of body parts: a hand holding a magazine, the top of a head using the woman’s body like a pillow, the reach of another arm wrapping around her hip.
It’s an unhurried, decidedly unflashy scene, perhaps one of a thousand times this couple reposed in Central Park, reading to one another or napping on lazy Sundays. Yet I can’t help but see it with envious and sentimental quarantine eyes.
Robinson’s photograph is from 1961, but I fight the urge to tell the couple to put masks on, to make sure they are properly distanced from other park goers. At the same time, the ease of their embrace moves me profoundly. Quarantined with two children, my husband, and our dog, I have not lacked for human or canine contact, but I know too many people who have not touched another living being during these long months of the pandemic.
While lounging in Central Park with friends and loved ones, I used to rub sunscreen on the backs of strangers, and I would return Frisbees that landed like alien offerings on our blanket to their owners without pause or thought of hand sanitizing. The sight of crowds didn’t instantly fill me with trepidation. How could we have taken for granted all of the casual, quotidian ways we connect? And, please, may we be able to do it again?
I keep returning to “Relaxing in Central Park” with the hope that life will imitate art, that one day soon we’ll be able to take quiet comfort in being together instead of trying to find solidarity in staying apart.
Marni Fogelson lives and writes in Philadelphia, where she is also the co-chair of Team First Book Philadelphia, a literacy nonprofit that provides free books to children in need to start their own home library.
Herb Robinson has been a photographer for 50 years. He was born in Jamaica and moved to the United States when he was five. He is currently working on a book to be published in 2022.