When the pandemic struck, Paula Zuccotti rediscovered her long neglected vinyl collection. “I listen to records that I haven’t touched in years,” says the designer and ethnographic researcher born in Argentina and based in London. His job is to notice things – that is, people’s possessions and how they use them – so this new habit made Zuccotti wonder what other types of objects had played a more central role in the existence of people foreclosure.
To find out, she appealed on Instagram in April 2020, asking, “What are the 15 things that are getting you through this?” Zuccotti showed off his list of 15, which included a disc, kettlebell, and sage stick, and offered simple instructions to those interested in sharing theirs: place the items on a flat surface, take a photo from above. and post the photo. with the hashtag # EveryThingWeTouchCovidEssentialsx15.
“I wanted them to use the filter of ‘Here’s what I like today.’ They don’t need to be new things, but maybe they’ve taken on new meaning, ”says Zuccotti, who sees this project as an extension of the work she did for her 2015 book, Everything we touch: a 24 hour inventory of our lives, showcasing his photos of all the items that multiple subjects interacted with in a single day. Zuccotti dubbed this practice of viewing our objects as potential artefacts “future archeology”.
And there is certainly a lot to be learned about how COVID-19 and the restrictions that go with it have changed routines around the world. Zuccotti has compiled over 1,000 responses from 50 countries in a publicly searchable archive at lockdownessentials.org. The images aren’t always as polished as professional shots, but they are extremely revealing, especially when paired with brief descriptions of why each item was selected for an individual’s 15.
Common threads quickly became apparent – laptops and headphones are ubiquitous, alongside face masks and hand sanitizer, demonstrating the different ways we’ve been successful in maintaining contact with the outside world. Zuccotti appreciates that local goods and cultural practices play a disproportionate role, as do flowers, candles and slippers. “There has been a change in the way people see things,” she says. “Rather, they define themselves by what makes them feel better.” Here’s a closer look at some pictures:
Liliana Cadena, Barichara, Colombia
Yes, big ants are filling this white bowl. Cadena writes that she has a renewed appreciation for these hormigas culonas, a nutritious local delicacy. This particular part of her diet is unusual, but like many other people, she drank a lot of caffeine and alcohol, as evidenced by her coffee maker and bottle of Lambrusco. For both, Cadena relates the experience to spending time and meals with her family. Zuccotti loves the way Cadena describes her sneakers in the context of not caring so much about her appearance anymore. “I have never felt so confident and comfortable wearing casual clothes,” writes Cadena. It struck a chord with Zuccotti, whose high heels were also tucked away.
Maria Belen Morales, Quito, Ecuador
Morales’ toes peek into the frame, though she’s not one of her 15 posts. Humans (and sometimes the cat) appear on other lists and photos. In Morales’s case, her newborn Inti is represented by all the objects related to her care, including the unfolded scarf framing the image and the yellow bottle of Agua de Florida “for cleansing and healing rituals. “. The scent spray is also one of Zuccotti’s 15 articles. “If you’re depressed, you feel it, you get a boost and you feel better,” she says.
Padmavathy Krishna Kumar, Bangalore, India
Many of Kumar’s items were picked right from his garden, which was a visually striking choice. But what really stands out for Zuccotti is how each has a distinct meaning for Kumar. Rosemary and thyme are loved for their scent, peppers are a “mood-uplifting” shade of red, and spinach and ajwain leaf represent her rediscovering her mother’s cooking.
Naitiemu Nyanjom, Nairobi, Kenya
You can’t miss the hot pink vibrator – a sign, says Zuccotti, of the honesty of the participants in this project. However, the largest object in Nyanjom’s collection is the kora, a long-necked harp lute. “I really want to learn a musical instrument this year,” writes Nyanjom. It’s a widespread sentiment, notes Zuccotti, who has seen a renewed interest in people reconnecting with their culture through music.
Mohamad Chehimi, Kuwait City, Kuwait
Chehimi was confined at home, but not in his home country. So, like other contributors “in a place that doesn’t belong,” as Zuccotti describes it, the Lebanese native has found ways to bridge the gap. There is the Lebanese-American author Kahil Gibran The Prophet, a book he read three times. There is also a Nintendo Switch, which Chehimi used “to meet my friends ‘virtually’ by playing online games such as Animal Crossing”.
Sheena, Manila, Philippines
“Since everyone uses face masks and half of my face is covered, I make sure my eyes are flirty and pretty,” Sheena writes about why eye makeup is on her list of 15. She also included hair straighteners because she experimented with different styles and colors. This focus on appearance may have to do with Zuccotti’s favorite object in the photo: the karaoke microphone. With bars closed, Manila residents like Sheena have turned to home karaoke en masse. Parents complained that their homeschooled children were so distracted by the heckling that the government prohibits “karaoke, videoke and other sound producing devices” during daylight hours.
Magdalena Zajac, Ljubljana, Slovenia
A cuddly little koala is “a friend who spends all 40s with me,” writes the Polish international exchange student. It’s a positive way of looking at the situation – something Zuccotti saw expressed in various ways. (Check out Rino from Tokyo, Japan, who has a design of crossed fingers.) Zajac’s collection also includes a pair of rose-colored glasses that emphasize his sunny outlook. “In my country, we use the expression ‘looking through rose-colored glasses’ to adopt a generally optimistic and happy attitude,” she writes.
Vittoria Tedaldi, Madrid, Spain
Tedaldi titled her photo “Walking Barefoot During Lockdown,” so the pair of socks pictured were anti-essential – being at home meant she didn’t have to wear them. She writes that “suddenly we had time to play”, which is why there’s this eye-catching playing card game honoring Spanish culinary history, illustrated by artist Silja Goetz. Tedaldi’s steel spoon, which she includes as a nod to “cooking as a means of caring”, also stands out from Zuccotti. She notes that in several American photos, the spoons used to encourage essential workers by knocking on jars had a different meaning.
Dati Agno, Lomé, Togo
Not all contributors are on Instagram. Zuccotti’s trainer at his London gym is from Togo, and when she told him about his project, he convinced his grandmother to submit 15 articles to him. Agno’s list is loaded with relatively basic needs, such as fruit, flour, and a fan. And like many images from Africa, it includes a Bible. Zuccotti notes that these types of items are a sign that while many of us have changed the essential things in our lives, others have found solace in their usual items.
It’s your turn: send us a photo of one of your pandemic essentials
We would love to see your pandemic essentials! Send us a picture of yourself pose with an object that helps you get through the COVID crisis (it’s not a laptop or phone!). In a few sentences, tell us why this is important to you. Horizontal images are highly appreciated. Email the photo and caption, along with your name and location, to [email protected] with the subject line “My essential pandemic”. We can present it in a future article on NPR.org. The deadline is July 6.