We are living in a unique time. Even my Grandma — who has seen some things — said she has never seen anything like this. Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, businesses are shuttered, people are having to distance themselves from strangers and loved ones alike, parents have been thrust into crisis homeschooling, finances are tight, marriages are strained and kids miss their friends. Things will never really be the same again.

People are weathering this storm with varying degrees of stress and anxiety. Some are comfortable at home with loved ones and a reliable paycheck, while others are essential workers coming home exhausted and scared to have physical contact with their families. Others still are in the process of losing everything; unable to feed their kids or pay their rent.

I live in a town that relies heavily on tourism to pay ithe bills. The military brought us to Key West almost three years ago and we have enjoyed a unique experience here, particularly for an Army family that usually resides in landlocked locations. The island is roughly three by five miles and is almost always busy. I hear that there used to be a slow season but I’ve yet to experience one (unless you count post Hurricane Irma).

Since this all began, the usually bustling streets of Key West are eerily quiet. No cruise ships are in port. The restaurant patios are empty save for roosters and chickens missing their usual table scraps. The boats in the marinas that are traditionally busy ferrying customers to and from their various ocean adventures and sunset cruises, remain at the dock.

Here’s how I documented Key West during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Shuttered business in Key West during Coronavirus pandemic

It’s quiet and sad at once.

I actually enjoy the calm and can see what drew people to this tiny speck of paradise before it became a tourism mecca. But that peace and quiet has come at a huge price for a large percentage of the residents that call this place home, and I feel for them. It’s quiet and sad, all at the same time.

As I’m ambling around taking photos, I wonder which of these businesses will still be open after all of this is said and done. It’s like a hurricane without the usual mess. And just like in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, there will be people who will lose their livelihoods and have to leave this place that they love.

A closed bar in Key West during Coronavirus pandemic
Photo of empty square in Key West FL during Coronavirus
An empty Key West restaurant patio during Covid-19 pandemic
Restaurant chairs stacked up during Covid-19 shutdown

There is beauty here.

Photography has been incredibly therapeutic for me during all of this, as art tends to be in times of crisis. My lens that is usually so focused on people has been turning (ironically) more to the outside world.

Documenting this city and the beauty in nature unencumbered by so many people has been an experience that I won’t ever forget. The sea turtles are nesting, manatees are grazing, the boats are fewer and farther between. We are able to swim in the ocean and enjoy the healing effects of Mother Nature right outside our door and I do not take it for granted. There really is no place I’d rather be stuck right now.

Photo of puddle reflection of empty Key West during Covid-19
A chicken in the empty streets of Key West during Coronavirus pandemic
Lensbaby photo of boats at sunset
A man with a face mask rides his bike during Coronavirus pandemic

There is hope.

While it is true that I have enjoyed documenting and seeing this place in a new, undisturbed light, I sincerely hope that the folks who rely on these usually busy streets to pay their bills make it out the other side OK, and that we see some sort of return to normalcy before it’s too late for them to recover.

Photos by Rachel Ambroson.
Images were shot exclusively with a Lensbaby Velvet 56 and Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

Photos of empty key west during Coronavirus pandemic 2020