By Frankie Kujawa
From the creative mind of visual artist Zachary Z. Handler comes his new project, “Errands,” a portrait series that visually documents the shared shelter-in-place experiences of people around both Maryland and the world, from the comfort and safety of their own home. Handler recently chatted with Baltimore OUTloud regarding inspiration for the project.
The inspiration for “Errands” started about two weeks into the pandemic for Handler. “We hadn’t been in quarantine yet. I was coming home after my job in healthcare, which feels lately like the first day on the job – everything we’ve known has been evolving due to COVID-19. So, I came home from work, sat down and was watching a movie. But then I just became really distracted and stopped the movie. This may sound hokey, but I was looking around my room and I thought, ‘I can’t just do this … just come home and watch movies all the time or at least for the unforeseeable future.’ I had to do something.”
For Handler, the challenge was how to continue to reach people without going to them physically. “How do I continue my photography, continuing the idea of this ‘gift exchange,’ during a time when I can’t physically be there? I thought that everyone needs a little something – especially during this pandemic ‘storm cloud.’ I thought, ‘Well, I do love photographing people, but I can’t do that up close. I’ll just call them and use my house as the backdrop.” Handler proceeded to FaceTime his subjects and photographed them on his phone. If you look at Handler’s images, you’ll see that in the beginning he placed the phone down on a piece of furniture creatively. “It’s like, phone-on-laundry, phone-on-dishes, phone-on-the-stove. I did something creative with objects in my home to set the scene.”
When coming up for a name for the project, Handler looked on the lighter side for inspiration. “Not always, but sometimes I like to inject humor into my work. I was trying to think of a title for this project and I thought, ‘What is something before the pandemic that you couldn’t pay me enough money to go do by myself, or with someone else, but I would pay you money to let me do now – well that would be errands.’ If someone asked, ‘Would you want to go run errands?’ I would say, ‘Could we hang out afterward? I don’t feel like going store to store with you.’” Handler then chuckled, “Then I thought, if that same friend were to call me today and ask me to go now, I would say ‘How much would you want me to pay you to let me go?’”
As time went on, Handler began to get more creative with the objects in his home in order to set the scene. “I definitely picked up more set building, and world-making. The images are totally immersive, and immersive emotionally. The subjects that I was photographing were telling me how they were doing, and I was carrying over 200 people’s emotions over the pandemic.”
For Handler, the process started with what could he do with his phone and his camera around his house and it took off! “I did the first photographs of this project on April 18th.” Handler’s images, which are available on his website (Zzhandler.com) and Instagram page (@zzhandler), came from an online sign up that he posted. “I photographed 54 people within the first two weeks. Since I put it online, and added a sign up, to date I think I’m up to about 220 people right now.” His Baltimore-based project soon went global. “I’m very excited to say it went across oceans. Subjects I’ve photographed so far are as far away as the UK, Croatia, Thailand, India, Qatar, Zimbabwe, the Pacific Northwest, and Hawaii.”
“Art completely saved me once again,” Hander exclaimed. Time and time again, if I want to find something in my life, I can find it by making art, or making art will get me to where I might need to be. This project is getting me through and is helping me through the pandemic, as well. I’m literally making it about other people and other people’s stores – even though the stories they share aren’t documented. We have been able to create something really fun that has meaning, that I sent them afterward. I would say, ‘This photo is yours, feel free to share it if you wish.’ But it’s this really nice memento where five, ten or 15 years from now, people can look back and think, ‘Oh my God, I remember that! Look how far we’ve come!’ or ‘I forgot that I did that during the pandemic! I wonder how that photographer is doing.’ And, then on my end, I have a beautiful time capsule of some of the most amazing strangers that I’ve ever met.”
As the conversation with Handler came to a close, the artist offered these final words to readers, which echoes the mission and intention of his project, “And if you are able to do something kind for someone else today, please consider paying it forward.”
Be sure to check out “Errands” at Zzhandler.com.