From “Latent Labour.” (Lewis Bush)

It’s been nearly a year the globe has been dealing with the coronavirus. What we once thought might be gone in weeks has seeped into our collective conscious now, affecting everything that we do. As of this writing, and according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, there are more than 57 million cases and over 1.3 million deaths due to the virus. There is virtually nowhere you can go to escape it.

Looking back on when we first became aware of the virus seems kind of quaint now. We were told to wash our hands, social distance and wear masks. We did that. At first, there was success in “flattening the curve.” Some countries, cities and states were more successful than others. But it has never been eradicated. Not by a long shot. Instead, it keeps rearing its head, lingering. Here in the United States we’ve been told to get ready for a long, dark winter even as we receive news of vaccines being created. But it seems like we’ve still got a long way to go.

British photographer and writer Lewis Bush’s project “Latent Labour” takes a fascinating look at how our presence sticks around on the items we shop for. Bush told In Sight, “During lockdown I began systematically fingerprinting items of my shopping for traces of other people who had touched and potentially contaminated them.”

Bush’s results are startling. They bring into crisp focus what we have always kind of known. That is, the items we buy have already been touched and handled by more than just us. But in this day and age, with the virus lurking around, it’s even more incredible to see how everyday items may be helping to keep it alive and thriving. You never know where it may be. That’s one of the most disconcerting things about it to begin with.

Seeing multiple fingerprints on a cucumber, tomato or Coke can is a stark reminder of just how hard it is to get away from potential exposure, no matter how many times we wash our hands or take other precautions. But on top of that, it reinforces the fact that the people who handle these everyday items as a necessity, the people whom we’ve deemed “essential workers,” are constantly in peril of coming into contact with the virus.

As Bush says in the zine he created for “Latent Labour”:

“What began as an inquiry into fears about contamination has also become one about the traces left behind by the labourers who make our modern economies possible. Shop workers, parcel delivery people, warehouse workers, and the like are both amongst the most poorly paid, and also often most exposed in a time of social distancing. That vulnerability in large part stems from their invisibility to the rest of us, even when they, and their traces, are in fact right in front of our eyes.”

You can see more of Bush’s work on his website or Instagram account.


From “Latent Labour.” (Lewis Bush)

From “Latent Labour.” (Lewis Bush)

From “Latent Labour.” (Lewis Bush)

From “Latent Labour.” (Lewis Bush)

From “Latent Labour.” (Lewis Bush)

From “Latent Labour.” (Lewis Bush)

From “Latent Labour.” (Lewis Bush)

From “Latent Labour.” (Lewis Bush)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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