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Ailis' COVID-19 Photo Essay

During the global pandemic over covid-19, there have been numerous changes to our material culture. In this essay, I will be documenting how our material worlds have changed since the beginning of 2020 and providing photographic evidence of these changes. The examples I have outlined in this essay are Introduction of PPE, Fashion, venues of face to face religious and educational meetings, exercising in the pandemic, dating and social life in the pandemic, being essential workers, currency in the pandemic, and beauty in the pandemic.

Introduction of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) including face masks, visors, and gowns (usually for health workers) took the western world by storm. There was uproar when PPE became a necessary form of protection when doing daily tasks out in public such as wearing a facemask on public transport and it became necessary to wear facemasks in shops as people see it as an infraction of human rights rather than a necessary form of protection from covid-19. Facemasks are an Important piece of equipment to aid in “slowing the spread of the virus” according to the Mayo clinic website. Videos began circulating on social media of “anti-maskers” who made claims such as having health conditions or saw it as an invasion of their rights to be denied service if they did not wear a mask. I personally have asthma and find no problems with wearing a mask. They have always been common in places like China where they are used to filter pollution as well as preventing the spread of illness and I feel as though they would be a beneficial addition to our culture for those health purposes.

Anti-Maskers poster defaced by pro-maskers 16/10/2020

Facemasks have become a new form of fashion accessory, coming in various colours and brands. They’ve potential as a form of free promotion, UCC sent all first-year students a facemask with their welcome packages. Clothes brands such as “Oh Polly” have released gorgeous facemasks to match their new clothing collections. I find myself buying a new colourful or patterned facemask every time I enter Supervalu. They have even started making new styles of facemasks like “snood” versions for winter which is just absolute genius from a business standpoint.
The material culture of face to face events has changed drastically. From masses being live-streamed instead of being held in a church to college being posted online rather than attending on-campus the world has been flipped upside-down. Primary and secondary schools have taken to enforcing PPE rather than closing to ensure the students are in a safe space learning environment. It has become a lonely world for many college students, living in their room spending day after day moving from bed to desk on loop. In this melancholy process, I made an effort to spend an hour outside every day and use the time to find new music on Spotify that can inspire my creative side rather than the emotional side. There is also a major strain being but on people’s eyes, there has been an increase of people wearing Anti-blue light glasses which helps filter the harmful rays.

While the swarm of screens can negatively affect mental health, many people have been forced to switch up their daily exercise routines and have decided to incorporate nature. Many people, including my mother and aunt, have taken up swimming in the sea as pools and gyms were closed. It is exhilarating to reconnect with nature and find beauty in the world around you once again. I personally love going for walks every night as my substitute to walking to meet friends and constantly moving while making up my daily steps running through my day to day tasks. I am planning on making a nightly walk a permanent addition to my routine.

Masks on a jewellery stand 8/11/2020

Technology overload 10/11/2020

Meeting up with friends and dating in the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed when it came to material culture. Earlier in the pandemic, I went on a date and I found much more effort was put into the planning. Rather than going for a coffee and having eager waitresses listening in on every word we went for more of an adventure. We ended up in Kinsale for a walk to St. James’s fort. We climbed out to the water’s edge and talked with a view so beautiful we did not even think about pulling out our phones for a photograph or to reply to text messages. Covid dates were more in more interesting places like Fountainstown beach and Currabinny woods.

Dunworly Caves 23/8/2020

Fountainstown beach 30/8/2020

Meeting with friends in wet pubs is another, more hectic, side of the coin. In the majority of levels of lockdown wet pubs are kept closed. Firstly, A limit of 6 people from 3 households implemented in phase 2 of lockdown (at least you had an excuse to not invite the sloppy drunk friend). Upon entering the pub, I was greeted by a man who asked me and my friends to fill out our personal details on a form, we were then escorted to our table. Customers also stay in their seats unless they are wearing a facemask and are strictly prohibited from mingling for the duration of their time in the pub. There was a rule implemented that each customer must spend nine euros on food if they wanted to order an alcoholic beverage. Being 19 I was not used to going for meals with my friends, but I can speak for the group of us when I say we thoroughly enjoyed the luxury.


It took a while to get used to the changes in material culture while working in the pandemic. Every member of my family is an essential worker, and my mother is a nurse, making her a front-line worker. In my mother’s hospital, CUH, many material culture changes have taken place. Rather than patients being allowed visitors they have a designated section where family and friends can drop off bags of personal items and it is manned by security. By the back door to the hospital, there is security, a nurse in full PPE and a care assistant in full PPE. Here they ask the screening questions for Covid-19. If a patient has symptoms they are immediately taken to cubicles for testing. If the patient is having breathing difficulties and is confirmed Covid-19 patient, they are taken to a new restricted Covid-19 zone in the A&E. A few more differences in hospitals is all cubicles in the emergency department now have doors, before going into surgery you must take a Covid-19 test two days in advance, there are Perspex sheets on either side of the seats in the waiting rooms and people are not allowed to sit next to one another, much like on public transport. My sister working in Supervalu is obligated to wear a mask and sanitize her hands after each customer. Supervalu has placed large Perspex sheets between customers and employees at tills to add another layer of protection. Shops like Supervalu try to implement a system of walking on a yellow line placed on the ground when entering, exiting or when queuing for checkouts. Differences in my work include the addition of sanitizers and masks. Originally, we were using plastic gloves, but this was unnecessary for the negative impact on the environment and we found that we sanitized our hands less with them. As a member of the restaurant staff, I grew accustomed to sanitizing every menu after each customer used it and sanitizing the counter every time a new customer ordered take away.

Inhaler, 11/11/2020

Future Museums, 10/11/2020

The new preferred currency of the people has become card over cash. People are asked to use card as it is less likely to pass the virus along to the sales assistant. I personally will continue to use contactless payment even after the global pandemic as it is a much more efficient and hygienic way to purchase goods. It appears some people will not share this opinion as I have had customers confirmed to have the virus refuse to pay with card over the phone for delivery.

The beauty industry took a major wrap during the Covid-19 pandemic. Hairdressers and nail salons are only allowed to open in level 3 lockdown. This has resulted in many people ordering their own supplies online and grooming themselves from home. I found that learning how to apply gel nails at home was an excellent hobby to pick up rather than spending spare time looking at more screens. I can guarantee that I will continue to pursue this hobby even when lockdown ends.

DIY Nail Salon, 10/11/2020

The examples I have documented are just some of the major and minor ways our material culture has been altered since the beginning of 2020. This goes to show whether its introduction of PPE, fashion, venues of face to face religion and education meetings, exercising, dates and socialising, being an essential worker, currency, or beauty: the pandemic has had an effect on almost every aspect in which we live our lives.

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