Brooklyn photographer documented quarantined New Yorkers finding escapes on their rooftops

ByEmily Sowa WABC logo
Thursday, October 1, 2020
Josh Katz started YouTubing at age 9, now it's his career
Josh Katz started posting skateboard videos on YouTube at 9 years old, now he's crushing the YouTube game with photography tutorials.

BROOKLYN, New York (WABC) -- When New York City emerged as the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in March, Brooklyn-based photographer Josh Katz began documenting how quarantined New Yorkers found escapes on their rooftops.

Over three months, Katz spent hundreds of hours documenting the moments of community and chaos that unfolded in the blocks around his Bushwick rooftop, including flirting through poster boards, socially distanced rock concerts, head-spinning b-boys, and makeshift drag show runways.

"My roommate got sick before it was in NYC, people were still going out, I was quarantining early. The first weekend when quarantine started, I noticed roofs were going to be more lively than ever," said Katz. "It was freezing cold, but people were trying to experience normalcy on their roofs during quarantine."

The 'New York in Quarantine' series captures the hope, beauty, and eccentricity of quarantined New Yorkers adapting their art, relationships, and lives to play out stories above the city's empty streets.

"I was photographing everything and anything. Whether it was my rooftop or four rooftops over, I started to capture every person or anything I saw," said Katz.

1 of 13
New York in Quarantine: Rooftop Culture Through Crisis by Josh Katz
Josh Katz

Every night, Katz would go out at 4 pm and stay out on his roof until it was dark, walking back and forth on his rowhouse roof.

Knowing that this was going to be the new 'social life' for at least a while, Katz decided he was going to be that community person and get to know all his neighbors.

"I watched fire escapes transition into extra rooms - used as drag show runways, art studios, reading nooks, dining areas, and extra storage - people were making their spaces work," said Katz.

Midway through the project, there was another photographer was taking photos of people without their permission and people were upset by this. Katz decided he needed to be far more transparent about his project and created a 'code of ethics' and laid out the rules for how he would go about photographing.

"If anyone has an issue, I will always pursue consent. I wanted to make sure there was a code of ethics. I still wanted to shoot candid photos, but after I get that candid moment, I will contact those people, offer to send them that image, and get their permission. Almost everyone I've gotten their permission," said Katz.

Related: Learn photography from Brooklyn YouTuber Josh Katz

Katz described one of his favorite moments that he witnessed was a small, socially distant dance party. A couple of people were frolicking on the tabletops to Sinatra's 'New York, New York' to head-spinning b-boys and choreographed waltzing.

"This is how New York perseveres and I want to get that story out there as much as possible," said Katz.

The series is now debuting as an 88-page, 9x12" photo book, designed by Eddy Ymeri, which includes more than 70 images and several accompanying essays chronicling Katz's process and highlights from the pandemic's fledgling roof culture.

Katz is a photographer, photography teacher, and sponsored skateboarder living in Brooklyn, New York. He creates digital photography courses, leads workshops, and makes videos for Canon, teaches Lightroom for Adobe, and creates YouTube videos about photography.

You may recognize Katz from a Social Superstar's episode we featured him in a few years ago - discussing how he went from posting skateboard videos on YouTube at 9 years old to crushing the YouTube game with photography tutorials.

He has large audiences on YouTube and Instagram, which he'll be leveraging to promote the photo book.

To learn more about Josh Katz, watch his back story here:

Josh Katz started posting skateboard videos on YouTube at 9 years old, now he's crushing the YouTube game with photography tutorials.

On September 30th, Katz is launching a 30-day Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 to fund the book's first print run. For a $25 contribution, backers can preorder 'New York in Quarantine'.

The photo book will be printed and bound in the U.S., allowing Kickstarter pre-orders to be fulfilled in early 2021.

Also, 100% of the book's profits will be donated to Doctors Without Borders to support their work, which includes fighting COVID-19 in the places that need them most.