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Enter the secret world of the bathroom cabinet
We’ve all done it. Whether while staying with family, or visiting a friend, or moving in with a stranger. We have all stood before a bathroom cabinet not our own and peered into its contents.
From hair removal creams to hemorrhoid treatments, our cabinets are the home to embarrassing products that provide a glimpse into our personal lives and priorities. It’s not surprising that half of us (48%) say they would be offended if someone peeked inside our bathroom cabinet uninvited.
And yet 1 in 10 of us admit to doing just this! Sure, we’ve done it to borrow a couple dabs of toothpaste. But there’s no point in denying that we’ve also done it on a few occasions simply to gather a few clues about the identity of the cabinet’s owner. . .
Bathroom cabinets are so familiar to us because they are ubiquitous. Or, at least the notion of a bathroom cabinet is universal. With few exceptions, everyone who is living today has had, or eventually will have, practical experience in replicating that notion for personal use. Whether that notion is curated on a shelf, a ledge, a drawer, a rack, a cupboard, a box, or in a suitcase.
This photography project allows you to peek inside bathroom cabinets all around the world, from Australia to Uzbekistan.
Five truths about bathroom cabinets
1. The golden trio of personal care
All the bathroom cabinets viewed were stocked with at least one dental tool, one type of soap, and one type of moisturizing ointment. This trio is seen as the necessities of basic care the world over. With three items to hand, we are able to perform three specific actions that we as a species alone perform on a relatively regular basis: scrub, cleanse, anoint. Over the course of millennia, we have collectively developed a basic set of practices that amounts to a kind of species wide wellness program.
2. Our cabinets make us human
In a sense, these three actions are the fundamental actions necessary to perform a transformative ritual that makes us human. We all know what it is like to go without performing these actions for a protracted amount of time, whether due to choice or necessity. Many respondents talked about the products, and their associated actions, as the things they ‘couldn’t live without’. Indeed, one respondent described it as a routine that helps her ‘feel human again’. The products that are seen as most essential often aid in the struggle against local climate (hot, dry, cold, humid, etc.). Examples include aspirin, lotions, deodorants, and toothpaste. In essence, by fulfilling a series of largely habitual actions, this universal wellness regime connects and affirms our place in the human community.
3. The private life of your cabinet
Bathroom cabinets are largely personal spaces that are curated by individuals who alone know the logic of their layout. Every cabinet in the series provides a uniquely formulated, independently managed, and customized approach. If you awoke and found one of these cabinets in place of your own, chances are you'll manage to accomplish the essentials of your care-regime, but you'll also need to be a bit flexible in just about every other regard. In fact, if you take a close look at each of our cabinets, you'll find that each cabinet has been curated to support a specific life in all of its dimensions, ranging from the environmental to the dynamics of one's family life. What does a stock of three tubs of Nivea Soft suggest? What factors might precipitate the choice of a Hello Kitty storage case? For whom, would six different types of facial lotion make sense? Whether due to social or cultural codes, or the force of advertising and lifestyle choices, there are an infinite number of variations in personal care regimes.
4. A portal to our hopes and dreams
In all the bathroom cabinets we see a desire for positive change and both men and women clearly project their hopes onto a variety of products. These luxury items such as colognes, perfumes or expensive creams and lotions are wellness potions of which people are intensely proud. Here brand visibility is desired and positively encouraged. Exclusivity and storytelling is apparent, whether in terms of a family history of use, or the exotic source of the product. Behind the brand name often stands a product with remarkable provenance, precious oils or a luxurious lotion. You will often see these magical products in 'special boxes' or 'on display.' These were proudly announced and the brands were heroes in the eyes of their owners.
5. The dark side of your cabinet
Whereas some products have a magical and display-worthy character, others largely mask natural embarrassments and comprise of things like body hair bleaching creams and lice shampoo. Owners were none to keen to mention the product, let alone the brand name. Referred to generically (‘blackhead remover’ or ‘tampons’), it’s not the product itself that may bring embarrassment, but rather that excess which the product corrects. These products generally reflect an individual’s approach to a social norm as it relates to gender (women aren’t meant to be hairy) or age (goodbye grey, hello 25) or cleanliness.