Drone-Wielding Photographer Captures Miami's Quarantine-Cleared Streets

Miami and Miami Beach sit empty as residents follow the stay-at-home order. See more of Gilbert Gonzalez's photos here.
Miami and Miami Beach sit empty as residents follow the stay-at-home order. See more of Gilbert Gonzalez's photos here. Photos by Gilbert Gonzalez
Nowhere is it brighter at night than downtown Miami. The streetlights illuminate the area like an alcove in a pocket of darkness. The buildings stand strong and tall, and their lights twinkle almost as if they're saying hello.

One recent afternoon, photographer Gilbert Gonzalez came upon a familiar intersection: South Miami Avenue and SW Eighth Street. He noticed something almost alien about this well-known corner: It was empty, save for a few parked cars. There were no people.

Typically, on any given day, these streets would be filled with passers-by — walking, talking, taking what might be their next profile pic. But on this otherwise normal Saturday in March, Gonzalez was the only human being. He was standing in the middle of the street. There was no one to yell at him to get out of the way. No driver to honk at him. No one with whom to exchange a friendly wave.

“There was not a soul out there,” Gonzalez recalls. “I felt chills seeing how empty the streets were.”

Those chills are what motivated the 39-year-old full-time freelance photographer and videographer to unpack his gear and capture the moment. “It’s a good thing I always keep my drone in my trunk,” he adds with a chuckle.

The Hialeah native handles camera equipment for a living. He’s a camera operator for the Miami Marlins, Telemundo, and NBC Sports. Since the coronavirus outbreak, though, Gonzalez, like many others, has found his main source of income on indefinite hold.

He has turned to Uber Eats to help tide him over. It’s an honest living, and it allows him to get out of the house. Gonzalez, who lives alone, admits that for two weeks in March, he didn’t leave his apartment. “I knew I had to do something,” he explains. “I needed to find a way to make some money and also be able to leave my room." 
click to enlarge Biscayne Boulevard at SE Third Avenue. See more of Gilbert Gonzalez's photos here. - PHOTO BY GILBERT GONZALEZ
Biscayne Boulevard at SE Third Avenue. See more of Gilbert Gonzalez's photos here.
Photo by Gilbert Gonzalez
Being a part-time delivery driver allows Gonzalez to reclaim some familiarity with his previous life. He used to spend a lot of time driving the streets of Miami, which allowed him to become intimately familiar with the lay of the land. And now he’s getting to know it in a new light.

“I'd normally go and scope a place out before going back and photographing it,” he shares. Driving, he adds, allows him to truly get to know a city and understand where people gather and why.

Now, while he’s out on the nearly empty streets delivering meals, he seizes the opportunity to deploy his drone to photograph what he sees. He says one of his more recent Instagram photos, of a barren Interstate 95, garnered a lot of new attention. The image, which depicts a major interchange, contains only one car. It’s a sobering sight. If you stare at it long enough, it’s almost as if you can hear the peaceful quiet of a lonely highway. That's not something any Miamian ever thought possible.

He remembers the precise moment.

“I was making a delivery that required me to get on the highway,” he recalls. “I had pulled over to check my Uber app, and I realized that for the entire time I was stopped on the shoulder, not a single car passed by.”

He was taken aback by the emptiness he saw and felt. “When I go out to do deliveries, it feels lonely at times,” he confesses. “I’m out there, and you see some people, but it feels more like you’re living in a small town, and Miami is not a small town.”
click to enlarge SW Eighth Street at I-95. See more of Gilbert Gonzalez's photos here. - PHOTO BY GILBERT GONZALEZ
Photo by Gilbert Gonzalez
Gonzalez took up photography after working as a videographer for many years. He had followed many New York-based photographers on Instagram, and the street shots they shared inspired him to give it a try. “I just fell in love with the whole street-photography concept that I saw online,” he says. “I wanted to create that here in Miami because I felt that not many people were doing that.”

Gonzalez has amassed more than 10,000 followers on Instagram, and his images are often shared on other popular accounts, including Miami Beach Life, Downtown Development Authority, and Brickell Living.

The city's shutdown will last a while, Gonzalez notes, and he has no intention of putting down his DSLR or grounding his drone as long as Miami's self-isolation persists.

“I’ll continue to take shots of empty streets,” he says. “We don’t know when this will end, so until then, I’m going to keep taking pictures of what I see.”

Follow Gonzalez on Instagram (@cinematic80) to see more of his high-flying shots.
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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for Miami New Times. She nurtured her love of words at Boston College before moving back home to Miami and has been covering arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.