Photographs by Thomas Dworzak / Magnum Photos
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.)
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.
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—say, the shirtless man with no eyebrows, hefting in each hand what looks like a condom filled with water—exists within, and depends upon, the blurry continuum of Zoom.
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.