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A photographer turned spy captures a city of sheltering-at-home artists

Photographer Monique Carboni captured activist Sarah Sophie Flicker and her son in the window of their Brooklyn home. “It reminded me that we can still make beautiful things in these moments,” Flicker says. (Monique Carboni)
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The man was screaming. He had two little dogs and a big mouth. “Who gave you permission to be on that stoop?”

Monique Carboni, her Canon Mark IV aimed at the brownstone across the street, snapped a shot and scrambled. She had her shot. In normal times, Carboni is rarely noticed. She has years of experience working backstage as a house photographer for theater companies. She’s photographed a long list of celebrated performers, from Annabella Sciorra and Chris Rock to Eric Bogosian and Ethan Hawke. But like nearly everyone in the arts, Carboni found herself out of work in March, just grateful her Brooklyn landlord forgave the rent on her one-bedroom apartment.

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“For the first few weeks, I was just trying to get my life organized,” Carboni says. “Then I was thinking, ‘What can I do to keep myself going? If I’m not doing something creative, I will have a complete meltdown.’ ”

She noticed that actor, musician and fellow Brooklynite John Carlin was recording songs in his apartment and posting them on Instagram. She also knew that he had a window facing the street, which gave her an idea. Within days, Carboni was standing outside snapping his photo through his window as he played guitar. Since then, she’s turned the idea into a series centered on her neighborhood.

“The ‘Rear Window’ aspect of what she was doing was really interesting to me,” says Hawke, who saw the Carlin shot and agreed to be photographed inside his Brooklyn home. “Some of it’s inspiring, and some of it’s lonely. One thing about being in the city, it’s oddly hopeful when you watch how people can respond to adversity.”

“It reminded me that we can still make beautiful things in these moments; we can still stay connected in these moments,” says activist Sarah Sophie Flicker, the founder of a political cabaret troupe and another of Carboni’s subjects. “We can inspire each other to see outside our misery for a second. It just felt really good.”

Here are a few selections from Carboni’s ongoing series and a description of each in her words.

Lynn Nottage, playwright

“It’s done at dusk, but I got there a little early. The whole series is supposed to be inside the window, but it’s a 100 percent collaboration. People are giving me their time; they can do whatever the hell they want. This is a classic Brooklyn shot on the stoop. With her cocktail, of course. She’s home-schooling her son. I think after a day of . . . doing his virtual school . . . it’s a great time for a cocktail.”

Ethan Hawke, actor

“There’s too much reflection with the sunlight to keep the doors closed. That’s why we had opened the doors. If you look to the right, on that right-hand door, you can see me on the steps taking the picture. I just love the way he’s looking at me and the way he’s sitting on the table, and that he’s welcoming me into his home in this terrible time.”

Leah Aron, performance artist

“That’s about as [Edward] Hopper as it gets. . . . We had a huge conversation the day before. First, she hadn’t smoked a cigarette for two years. And she said, ‘I haven’t burlesque danced for 10 years,’ but she busted out everything for me. . . . I was like, ‘Wet your hair and have strands of hair on your face.’ . . . She was so game. I call her my Quarantine Queen.”

John Gallagher Jr., actor

“John Prine had just died the day before. I showed up, and he was wearing that shirt. He was number six [in her photo series], and the first five were all in the window, and I was getting bored of it. I knew he had a parlor floor. Most of the others had second-, third- or fourth-floor apartments, so I had to shoot on a distant angle. I was on my knees shooting these photos through the window, which I love. The window was open. I also love that it looks like a jail cell.”

Raúl Castillo, actor, and Alexis Forté, costume designer

“So I’m standing on the stoop across the street from them. This was at the very beginning and people were so freaked out. I was literally just doing my test shots. All of a sudden, this guy with two little dogs on leashes yells, ‘What are you doing? Who gave you permission to be on that stoop?’ I realized this was his stoop. And he keeps screaming at me. I clicked one more shot and took off. Five of the shots were blurry, and just one shot was crystal clear. But when I got home, only because I got such a great shot, it inspired me and gave me the courage to keep doing it.”

Mike Conlon, metal fabricator

“From a design perspective, the building was so gorgeous. And the cobblestone street. Then of course someone came and parked a car in front of the house, and it was there for three weeks. . . . All of a sudden, I got the text, ‘Oh, my God, the car is gone.’ And it was raining, and [Conlon] was way out at the end of Red Hook, so I called my good friend Mariana, who has a Citi Bike yearly pass and I’ve never used one. She signed out of her app and gave me her password, and I jumped on the bike, in the rain, a tripod strapped to my back. The rain added that extra beautiful reflection in the puddle.”