As COVID-19 has interrupted daily life, people from every profession have had to figure out ways to be productive — and photographers are no exception. Each week, we’ll share stories from our members about how they’re staying mentally and technically sharp during the pandemic.
One of the things that makes the coronavirus so scary is how quickly it spreads. Most of us have resigned ourselves to the fact that, at the very least, we’ll end up knowing someone who has contracted the virus. Though the disease has already claimed thousands of lives, many people have recovered from it. This isn’t meant to downplay the virus’ severity, but it does remind us that there are folks out there, like Paul Quitoriano, who have beaten COVID-19.
Having it in New York was definitely a bit more frightening than getting it in a less densely populated place. My doctor advised me against getting tested unless my symptoms became severe but, based on all of my symptoms, he said it was highly likely that I had COVID-19.
Paul’s story is now a familiar one, with the virus’ deluge of symptoms affecting him in waves across nearly two weeks of sickness. After alerting the people he had come into contact with during the weeks leading up to his diagnosis, Paul hunkered down for a truly unpleasant experience.
The cough is brutal, but the fever and the chills are really what made me most uncomfortable. It was really hard to sleep for more than 4-5 hours a night. There were moments where I would feel totally fine, especially during the morning and afternoon, but once the night came, I’d be fatigued and freezing. It is definitely the sickest I’ve ever been.
Still, the photographer found the energy to continue a personal project he’d already started, one which documents every meal he and his roommate have cooked since their lockdown began. “Quarantine Meals” was soon served with a dollop of irony: the coronavirus steals a person’s sense of smell and taste, meaning Paul couldn’t really enjoy the fruits of his labor.
I did end up losing my sense of smell and taste for a few days. My appetite was nonexistent, but I forced myself to put food into my body. My roommate eventually got sick and I took over cooking duties when I thought I was better. I was sautéing some garlic when I heard her say from the living room, ‘it smells great in there!’ to which my response was, ‘what smells great?’ And on top of being isolated and sick, everything tasted like cardboard.
But Paul and his roommate, who are also cousins, soldiered on and kept the project going despite both suffering from COVID-19. The two Bay Area transplants have been publishing each meal they’ve eaten — no matter where it comes from or how slapdash it is — on a special Instagram account called “the.qt.digest.”
I shoot lots of still life in my home studio and wanted to document how creative we’d have to get with cooking three meals a day and show our day to day mental health through the dishes. The first meal we put together and photographed consisted of some frozen pot stickers and leftover spinach, definitely a product of really leaning into the quarantine after a few glasses of wine from the night prior.
As another example, the meals we ate while we were potentially sick with COVID are definitely more lazily put together.
You can tell our moods and energy based on what we are eating. There are days where we definitely get nostalgic and order in, and we will cross promote where we get those dishes from. The grind of cooking three times a day really wore on us by about day eight, which is when we finally ordered takeout from an Italian deli nearby. The only places we’ve ordered in were from Carmenta’s, that Italian deli, and Popeye’s Chicken.
Paul notes that the bright aesthetic of the work is perhaps a subconscious way to imbue optimism and hope into a project that deals with such a troublesome situation head-on. Not only that but “Quarantine Meals” has helped fill up the hours in Paul’s day, hours that are a lot easier to navigate now that the frequent New York Times contributor has pretty much recovered from COVID-19.
The series is definitely helping me give structure to my day-to-day life. Days are really starting to blend together and I can only work on my website and portfolio for so long. I’m also happy to say that I’ve been feeling 100% for about three days now, and I’m hoping that I’ve gotten beyond it. I’ll tell you this much, that first sip of black coffee after getting my taste back brought me to another world.
See more of Paul’s work on his website.