The everyday objects that got us through lockdown, documented by Paula Zuccotti
In Future Archaeology of a Global Lockdown, the ethnographer compiles over 1000 images taken by individuals in 50 countries, telling their lockdown tale through 15 artefacts.
- Jenny Brewer
- 28 April 2021
In April 2020 when half the world’s population was under lockdown, Paula Zuccotti set out to examine how the crisis had impacted people, doing so through her subject of expertise – objects. Known for her book Every Thing We Touch: A 24 Hour Inventory of our Lives, the ethnographer is interested in how much we learn about a society through the items it uses every day. Amid this collectively strange period in history, she took to social media to ask “What are the 15 things that are helping you get through this?” – hoping to tell the story of the pandemic through crowd-sourced photo-documents. A year on, the submissions have been compiled and published, titled Future Archaeology of a Global Lockdown, comprising photos from over 1,000 people in 50 countries.
“When the reality surrounding Covid-19 hit, I couldn’t help but notice a shift in the objects we were using,” Zuccotti says. “As someone who believes in the power of objects to tell our stories, I was eager to document the items we were using not just to create a time capsule for future generations, but also to find out what these items could tell us about ourselves and our present circumstances.”
Each photo reveals a little about the person and their culture, and tells a story of their day-to-day life, with accompanying text explaining their selection. There are flourishes of individualism as well as common items that transcend borders and continents, many of whom turned to cooking, creativity and walks to pass the time. One item that is almost universal is a laptop, many people’s only portal for communication with loved ones during lockdown. Zuccotti says that people were candid in their submissions, the photographs are an “honest and raw” look at life during lockdown. Objects that might have a stigma attached were openly shared, including sleeping pills, antidepressants, books on mental health, sex toys and alcohol. She also observes that people’s choices were introvert, rather than extrovert, with function, comfort and emotional connection taking precedence over trends and brands.
“Although the Coronavirus affected us all, that is not to say that our experiences were identical,” Zuccotti explains. “With images submitted from everywhere from Kenya to Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia to Ecuador, this project reveals our diverse experiences and points of view. In Argentina, mosquito repellent tells us how the country was fighting Dengue alongside COVID-19. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the scarcity of eggs is highlighted. In the United States, a bell is a vehicle to show appreciation for essential workers at 7:00 PM. In a photo from Ecuador, a shamanic drum and Agua de Florida represent the indigenous deity Abuelo Fuego, and a nurse in Kenya includes an item representing a Matatu, the typical Nairobi taxi bus, which is the backbone of Kenyan public transport.
In her research work, Zuccotti says that archeologically found artefacts have taught us everything we know about past civilisations, revealing how these societies lived, worked, played, cooked and expressed themselves. ‘Future Archeology’ is a term coined by Zuccotti, to imagine what future generations will learn about our habits, needs and desires when they study and decode our essential everyday objects. In Every Thing We Touch she documented people from five continents through photographs of everything they touched in one day, and in turn depicted their character and story through these images. Future Archaeology of a Global Lockdown is a continuation of this theory, part of a larger body of work that aims to demonstrate how simple, everyday items can tell extraordinary stories about our existence. “In my work, I find the questions I get asked about the future hide a truth: we don't understand the present,” Zuccotti adds. “This archive connects us with our present through the lenses of people with different experiences from all over the world.”
Explore the full project at lockdownessentials.org.
GalleryPaula Zuccotti: Future Archaeology of a Global Lockdown (Images copyright © Paula Zuccotti and the individual photographers, 2020)
Paula Zuccotti: Future Archaeology of a Global Lockdown (Copyright © Paula Zuccotti and Vittoria Tedaldi Spain, 2020)
About the Author
After five years as It’s Nice That’s news editor, Jenny became online editor in June 2021, overseeing the website’s daily editorial output.
Jenny is currently on maternity leave.