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Nursing Home Residents Recreate Iconic Album Covers During Lockdown

Seniors in the U.K. staged photoshoots inspired by Elvis Presley, Madonna, David Bowie and other musicians

93-year-old Vera recreates Adele's 21 album cover. (Courtesy of Robert Speker / Sydmar Lodge Care Home)
smithsonianmag.com

Four months into COVID-19 lockdowns, staffers at senior care homes are coming up with increasingly innovative ways to fill residents’ time. In Edgeware, England, for instance, activities manager Robert Speker has been collaborating with seniors quarantined at Sydmar Lodge Care Home to recreate an array of iconic album covers.

As Laurel Wamsley reports for NPR, chosen albums range from Elvis Presley’s self-titled debut to Madonna’s True Blue and Adele’s 21. One remake features resident Sheila Solomon wielding a cane in a mirror image of the Clash’s guitar-smashing London Calling cover; Roma Cohen’s version of David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, meanwhile, finds her donning the artist’s famous lightning bolt makeup. Speker shared the images on Twitter earlier this month, and they quickly went viral.

“It’s pretty overwhelming, unbelievable. The lovely thing is the response,” Speker tells the BBC’s Gaby Roslin. “The response has been so positive and to know that the residents and I have done this project that has actually created smiles, that has spread all the way out of London … it’s kind of crazy when I think about it.”

Sydmar Lodge went into lockdown on March 12, and no family members or outside visitors have been admitted since.

As Speker explains to CBC Radio’s Brandie Weikle and Kevin Roberton, the pandemic has left residents with “a lot of time to occupy,” forcing him to “rethink” the care home’s activities.

To kickstart his musical masterpiece, Speker approached Solomon and asked her to help him recreate the Elvis album.

“She gets me,” he says. “She gets my sense of humor and my madcap ideas.”

Each photoshoot took about 30 to 45 minutes, according to Deutsche Welles Sabine Peschel. Once Speker had decided on an album, he and the resident in question set the scene, working to capture the same angle and energy as the musician. (A recreation of Rag’n’Bone Man’s Human required additional work, writes the activities manager on Twitter, as he had to copy the artist’s tattoos onto the sitter’s arms.)

“I had in my mind which album covers I thought were best, then I showed each individual his or her cover and said, ‘This is the ideal one for you,’” Speker tells Deutsche Welle. “And most said straightaway, ‘Yes, I’d love to do that.’”

Lily recreates a Madonna album cover. (Courtesy of Robert Speker / Sydmar Lodge Care Home)
Roma Cohen recreates David Bowie's Aladdin Sane album cover. (Courtesy of Robert Speker / Sydmar Lodge Care Home)

About two weeks into the photoshoots, Speker’s wife gave birth to a baby girl. As he explains to CBC Radio, she was actually in labor as her husband took the final photograph: a senior named Hilda’s recreation of a Blink-182 album. Welcoming a new member of the family slowed Speker’s progress on the editing and design parts of the project, but after several weeks of juggling childcare duties, he managed to complete the covers.

“And then I sent it out to all the family members, as I do with every single activity, especially now, so that they can see their family member participating in activities and actually looking usually happy,” he tells CBC Radio.

The nursing home’s employees participated, too, with four carers standing together in a recreation of Queen’s second studio album cover.

Sydmar Lodge isn’t the only care home participating in online challenges to pass the time. Last month, members of the Amenida Seniors Community took part in the Getty Museum Challenge, which asks participants to recreate famous works of art with everyday household items. Other nursing home residents are seeking pen pals as lockdowns continue.

The BBC asked Lily, a Sydmar Lodge resident who recreated Madonna’s True Blue album cover, whether she jumped at the chance to participate in the project.

“Yes, I did,” she said, “because [Speker’s] always looking for things to do, and I didn’t want to put him off.”

Reflecting on how the lockdown period has affected her, Lily added, “It hasn’t been bad at all. For me, it’s the company around me, you know, you’re not alone. … I prefer being amongst people, even if they don’t speak, at least I can sit amongst them, and that’s how the lockdown has been not quite so bad here.”

Speker tells Deutsche Welle that part of the reason he decided to focus on album covers is because music is relatable to so many people. He also points out that many residents have lived through the featured musicians’ heydays.

Since Speker posted the images on Twitter, both David Bowie’s widow and son have shared Roma’s recreation of Aladdin Sane. Thanks to the campaign’s popularity on social media, a GoFundMe page set up to benefit three charities chosen by Sydmar Lodge residents has garnered £3,200, or just over $4,150 USD, in donations.

Ultimately, however, the project was mainly a way for the community to have fun.

“It was just to have a laugh,” Speker tells CBC. “Often, I do things just so the residents will smile. And this was another of those ideas. And when I showed them the final piece, they were in fits of hysterics.”

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