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Martin Barzilai, Bruno Fert, Stephan Zaubitzer


The Grand Masked Ball. Paris, France, 2020.

Since March 17th, the start of lockdown in France, masks have become a central topic in public debate. In spite of the initial statements made by French leaders, it seems increasingly important to supply masks to the entire French population.

Get your masks ready, set, go! The end of lockdown is on the horizon and Parisians are beginning to go out again, slowly reacquainting themselves with freedom. But what can be done about the shortage of masks?

Anything goes to protect your respiratory tract against this damn COVID-19: a curtain, a scarf, a towel, a handkerchief,   or an airline sleep mask… Shoelaces are used as elastic; we are learning to sew through online tutorials. A few lucky people find an old stock of masks in the back of their garage or are helped by a “seamstress friend”. Others, who are more farsighted than the government, have built up their stock abroad. The postal service also brings its share of masks sent by family or friends.

We traveled around Paris with a mobile photo studio and a black backdrop, to portray the inventiveness and resourcefulness of the city’s inhabitants in the face of the pandemic. This work was carried out between 18th and 26th April in the second, seventh, tenth and twentieth arrondissements of the French capital.

Photographers: Martin Barzilai, Bruno Fert, Stephan Zaubitzer


A few quotes

“My son-in-law’s company was doing something else. He created cardboard masks to protect against the virus, which you can assemble yourself. They come in kit form. You fold them and add the gauze. They’re very comfortable!”

”A Chinese pharmacist in the neighborhood has them sent from China. They cost 15 Euros. I ordered two more from her. Makes you wonder where the billion masks the government has stockpiled have gone.”

“Our auntie made them. She sent them to us. She lives in Spain.”

“ We were in Bangkok. We knew it was coming to France. Just before that, I was in the Philippines and it was a total mess. When I joined my girlfriend in Bangkok for Valentine’s Day, I said, come on, let’s buy lots of masks.”

”A friend of my mom’s sewed them for us. She sent them from Germany. We’ve been wearing them for a week. It gets warm underneath. We used to use the paper ones before. Cloth is softer, but you can breathe better in paper. We are students.”

”I made it myself out of an old curtain. It’s terribly hot, so I’m going to try and fine-tune the pattern.”

“I was on vacation in the United States and I bought them there. I had it all planned out. I came home three weeks early. And I didn’t know how crazy it was going to be to get them here.”

”A friend of mine made it for me and sent it through the post. It just didn’t have elastic. So I used a shoelace and gift ribbon. And I added staples to hold it together. It’s very handmade. I don’t know where you can buy masks.”

”My ex-wife made my mask. She made two of them for me. I’ve had them for a week.”

”I’m a radiology nurse. I’m on call. I have a mask and the scarf over it to protect the mask so I can use it again.”

”I sewed it by hand. I knew how to sew, I’m from Chile and when I was a kid they taught us at school. But I had forgotten so I looked up tutorials on the Internet. I made two of them. And now I’m doing a third one. I just bought tea towels. I couldn’t find any elastic, I found shoelaces and so I did the best I could.”

”I have to wear my scarf in front of my mouth because I don’t have a mask. My friends tell me I look like a crazy person. I don’t know where to get one and I don’t have a sewing machine. I go out and get some fresh air, I live in a tiny studio, but I don’t actually get any air because I’m suffocating in my scarf.”

”I bought my mask. I went through “Next Door” which is a neighborhood site. Someone was offering to sell some. She delivered it to me outside my building. It cost me nine Euros. She had her little basket with all her masks in it. She looked like an old-fashioned flower seller. And I chose the design I wanted.”

”We found these masks in my garage. There were five of them. We’ve almost used them up now. And soon we’re going to make some. You have to be resourceful. Let’s hope there’ll be more after May 11th.”

”First I tried to make one out of a sanitary napkin. I’d seen that on video. He was Italian and on him you couldn’t see what it was at all and it looked very good. I tried to do the same, but you could see what it was. So I didn’t dare go out wearing it. Then, I kept trying to make some with kitchen paper and paper tissues. It wouldn’t stay on and it itched.”

Paris, april, 2020


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