Photo: Gianna Leung (16) - Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. “Artifacts are a physical manifestation of the stories of our roots and are symbols we can see, hold, and experience for ourselves.”

Student Contest

Winners and Finalists: The Artifacts in Our Lives

The Artifacts in Our Lives

This contest was an invitation for students worldwide to photograph an artifact and tell its story. We asked students: What memories of your cultural and family heritage exist within the objects of your lives? Students revealed heartfelt and insightful stories. Their photographs transcend time, revealing our collective memory during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our second student photography contest, The Artifacts in Our Lives, provides a window into the lives of students around the world. We received close to 700 submissions from students living in Canada, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, the Netherlands, Mexico, Romania, South Korea, and throughout the United States, among other locations. 

The contest was inspired by the stories that artifacts tell. Artifacts, a vital part of our living history, exist all around us. Anything that provides more evidence about the cultural, economic, historical, religious, and social aspects of our society could be considered an artifact. We were interested to hear how students would respond to the following questions: In which ways do artifacts connect us to our own history, culture, family, and place? What does the story of an artifact tell us about ourselves? 

Students turned their cameras on the objects of their lives, capturing personal connections, multi-generational relationships, as well as their cultural and religious values and beliefs. Photographs captured food, jewelry boxes, necklaces, photographs and photo albums, vases, books, pocket knives, shoes, clothing, sewing machines, furniture, old cameras, COVID-19 masks, musical instruments, ornaments, paintings, writing utensils, family altars, and portraits of family members, among others. 

Core themes from the contest’s submissions were identity, memory, time, and a shared sense of loss and reflection during the COVID-19 pandemic. We were inspired by students who also challenged the traditional definition of an artifact, recreating their own. Naomi Delkamiller, a winner from Nebraska, U.S. wrote, “Sitting behind a Zoom screen is my artifact, my frozen moment, an external expression of my internal confession: I miss connection.” 

A good photograph compels us to see the world differently. These student photographers certainly achieved this with their compelling stories and their candid responses. Each photograph evokes unique memories and captures a story of love, resilience, perseverance, and remembrance.


Iñaki Ramos

Iñaki Ramos (16) - Mexico City, Mexico

Due to the pandemic, the thought of death has become more present in our lives. Humanity has faced several challenges throughout the year of 2020, and most of us have lost someone we care about. I asked myself: how can an artifact connect us as a society? I realized that the concept of death, and death itself, has been more present than ever throughout the year. Because of the spread of COVID-19, we haven't been able to properly grieve. 

I decided to document a typical altar for The Day of the Dead as my artifact. In Mexico, we have a celebration called The Day of the Dead where we show respect and appreciation for the people who are no longer with us. Every year on November 1st and 2nd, families across South America put up an altar to commemorate their lost ones. The Day of the Dead is considered one of the most beautiful traditions because it represents death from a completely different point of view. No one is really dead unless they are forgotten, so this day is dedicated to remembering all the people that we love and who are no longer with us. 

This tradition has existed for more than 3,000 years and it has been passed down from generation to generation. An altar has different objects and each one of them has a meaning. It is formed by cempasuchil flowers, traditional food, candles, pictures, and personal belongings. The cempasuchil flowers are a bridge that connects the world of the living with the world of the dead. The candles illuminate the path home and the food and pictures welcome the dead to the world of the living. There is only a picture of my grandfather on the altar because it is not allowed to put a picture of a living person. Otherwise, you will get bad luck. Throughout my childhood my family has gathered to celebrate The Day of the Dead. I never felt the honor to celebrate it until six years ago when my grandfather passed away. It was special for me to set up an altar to honor him. 

Since then, The Day of the Dead has been an important tradition in my life. The year 2020 has been difficult for many families across the world and most of us have been in constant pain. When I was putting up my altar this year, I realized that it helped me heal and have closure around my losses. It also helped me appreciate the values that I have learned from each person that is on my altar. The Day of the Dead is a tradition that connects us all in our most painful times when we lose someone we love. It also allows us to appreciate life.

Alaina Gott

Alaina Gott (14) - Washington, U.S.

The White Cane of Independence 

Blindness is a difficult thing to describe. It is not nothing, but something. Not all blind people see the same, not all blind people are completely sightless, and not all blind people use a white cane. A white cane is not just a mobility device; it is so much more than that. It is freedom. It represents confidence and independence. It is a window to the world explored without help. This particular white cane was owned by my Opa. He was a father, a husband, and a friend to many people. Before glaucoma took his vision in his 40s, he was in the military. When he lost his vision, he also lost his independence. That is hard to gain back. When he rediscovered his independence, it was stronger than ever. That's what this artifact did for Opa. 

White canes are devices that blind and visually impaired people use to get around. It bumps into things and helps us orient ourselves in spaces and time. There are many ways to use this device and many of them have been invented over the years. They last one to ten years. 

I am not sure how long it was used, but it seems to be about five years old given how worn the paint is. When Opa died on July 19, 2009, the cane was given to my uncle who also used a white cane like me. Opa was very dear to him. He invited him with open arms into the blind community. Opa and I are more than just relatives. We share the connection that we both use the white cane that affords us a window of independence in the world. He and I do not have the same visual impairment but we do not need to have the same visual impairment to use a white cane. I have a type of albinism that makes my vision blurry and everything I see moves. When light hits my eyes, I am completely blind. Opa had glaucoma; he had no vision in one eye, but he had tunnel vision in the other which is very different from my visual impairments. Yet, we both use a white cane so we don’t get lost in this world of many small beautiful things. We can both explore in different ways through the vision that we do have. 

It's a spectrum. At the end of the day, the white cane is just a mobility device that grants so much more than what you can see with the naked eye. It is independence; it is freedom and it is a way to explore this world and learn new things. This is a beautiful thing that sighted people will not ever get. It is the gift of the disability. It is finding independence through small things in life. You don’t need vision to see the world of little beautiful things.

Ian Rosenzweig

Ian Rosenzweig (14) - Pennsylvania, U.S.

My artifact is an extremely important piece of my family’s history in America and a representation of the values we hold closely. It is a book entitled Seder Avodah for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This translates from Hebrew to “Order of Service for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.” Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the Jewish New Year and Jewish Day of Repentance. They are the two most important holidays of the Jewish year and are referred to as the High Holy Days. This specific prayer book was passed down to my mother from her parents. It was written in 1960 by Rabbi Max D. Klein of Adath Jeshurun Synagogue (known as AJ), which was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is now in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Congregants brought the book with them to the services. 

Today, most synagogues provide prayer books. The book belonged to my great-grandmother, Bella Zemble. AJ was the congregation my great-grandparents’ belonged to. Their three sons (including my grandfather) had their Bar Mitzvahs (Jewish Right of Passage ceremonies) there, my mother had her Bat Mitzvah there, and my parents were married there. AJ is a strong piece of our family’s history. Using this book was a joyous aspect of the difficult holiday services we endured in the pandemic environment. It allowed us to pray and participate in our service without squinting at the computer screen for hours on end, and it helped us to link our heritage, which felt particularly important this year since we had to socially distance from our relatives with whom we usually celebrate the holidays. The machzor brought up memories for all of us. It made us recall past, happier High Holy Days when we were able to pray in the synagogue with our community and be with our family, which were both missing elements from the online service. My mom thought about her grandmother who passed away when she was twelve years old. 

My sister and I learned about our family’s history. We knew about the importance of Adath Jeshurun to our family and that my grandparents are still congregants at AJ, but there was so much more wrapped up in that little book. We learned about what a service day looked like for our great-grandparents and grandparents. We learned about my great-grandparents' untimely deaths within a year of each other. We learned about a synagogue that held so much importance in our family’s past, including memories of all life cycle events. But most importantly, I discovered a piece of my family that was buried deeply beneath the stories of family history that I typically hear: the stories of the Holocaust and the countless family members lost and the anti-Semitism that stripped my family of equal opportunity in Europe and in America. This book initiated discussions of happier times and I learned positive stories about the continuity of this synagogue and this book within my family. I learned about my family, their synagogue and the prayer book that was issued to them 60 years ago which is used on the exact days of the Jewish calendar that I use them on, forming a connection between myself and my great-grandparents. All these connections took place through an artifact that had no monetary value, but was treasured because it signified the ability to pray and live as Jews in a free country. It not only allowed us to experience feelings that we are meant to feel on our High Holy Days, but also express feelings passed down to us through my great-grandmother’s Seder Avodah, her prayer book.

Gianna Leung

Gianna Leung (16) - Mississauga, Canada

While I was looking for an artifact to photograph, I realized the immense sacrifice my immigrant parents gave to start a life here in Canada. This small clay teapot has always been an important part of the home. Growing up, I would often watch my parents brew tea after dinner and talk for hours about everything from the cooking time of ginseng soup to a close friend’s funeral in their home country they could not attend. I wondered why it was always accompanied by tea. 

This small teapot was the only connection that remained for them as a reminder of their home. It gave them a reason to converse in the comfort of each other and allowed them to stay rooted in the foundation of their culture, even as their children forgot their mother tongue. In the Chinese tradition, the youngest family member serves elders. Often, the interactions that are possible between parents and children become limited as the world continues to evolve. This photograph conveys the idea that despite the development of technology and assimilation to another culture, families remain connected through small interactions made possible from objects of the past. Artifacts are a physical manifestation of the stories of our roots and are symbols we can see, hold, and experience for ourselves.

Aidan Hoidal-Bui

Aidan Hoidal-Bui (15) - Massachusetts, U.S.

My Place On This Planet

In April 1975, just as the Vietnam War was nearing its end, my one-year-old mother, her two older brothers, and my grandparents fled Vietnam on one of the last planes to America just before the airport was bombed by the North. We were fortunate that my mom’s uncle was the general of the South Vietnamese police and head of South Vietnam’s CIA. His high rank is the only reason they were allowed to flee by air rather than by sea in wooden boats. 

In humanitarian crises, one must flee without possessions. However, there are some artifacts too critical to communities to be left behind. At the start of this photography project, I searched for hours to find a family artifact in our home. My mom shared with me that my grandparents did not have the luxury of packing and preserving family heirlooms; I was devastated. What they did bring was themselves, the clothes on their bodies, and several cherished photographs of my great-great-grandparents. I had such a narrow idea of what an artifact should look like that I didn’t think about the obvious solution to my problem. I realized that my great-great-grandparents’ fragile photographs were my family artifacts, even if they are the only ones we have. 

My grandparents’ primary goal was survival, and they brought only the necessities: their children who were alive and photographs of their elders who had passed. Respect for one’s ancestral history is embedded in the DNA of Vietnamese people. At the heart of every Vietnamese household sits an altar framed by ancestors and elders who have passed away. Bowls of fruit and rice are placed in front of the loved ones as offerings of respect and remembrance. The altar table is an essential part of our lives as it connects us to our roots, ensures we never forget where we came from, and honors those who came before us who made our lives possible. This customary arrangement symbolizes and ties together these essential values of Vietnamese culture. I hope to one day preserve this tradition and pass on these artifacts so that future generations will never forget where they came from and who came before them. 

I chose to make the smoldering incense the main focus of my photograph because its smokey scent is forever ingrained in my mind. I know I am entering a Vietnamese home when I walk through the door and the first thing I smell is burning incense, indicating that a prayer has just taken place. To be honest, it is not exactly a pleasant smell. It burns my eyes and even makes me choke. But when I smell that distinctive smoke, I am brought back to my childhood and all the times that we traveled to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit our family for Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. I chose to focus on the incense because no matter where I am, when I inhale that strong scent, I think of my great-grandparents on that altar and I am reminded of a country that has deeply shaped who I am today.

María Fernanda Ortega Cuevas

María Fernanda Ortega Cuevas (18) - Mexico City, Mexico

To me, food means family. As a Mexican, I can tell you that food is union and caring. Food is how you demonstrate love. My passion for photography aims to show how one can find beauty even in the most ordinary places or objects. Almost every Mexican household in central Mexico owns most of the objects portrayed and uses or consumes them on a daily basis. The only element that might not be in every Mexican home are churros. They symbolize the importance of food in our culture and all the sweet and comforting memories that pan dulce (sweet bread) brings to every Mexican. I remember that as a child, one of the best things about the weekend was when we would go to Coyoacán, a historically rich neighborhood in Mexico City, where I would have breakfast with my family and walk around to visit beautifully vivid and colorful sites. The most awaited moment of the day was when we would go to our favorite churrería (churro shop) and buy a few while drinking hot chocolate. 

The cempasúchil flowers and the candle represent our most internationally recognized festivity, The Day of the Dead, which has a beautiful and culturally rich historical meaning throughout Mexico. On a personal level, it has a very deep and profound significance. I believe this holiday makes people appreciate and realize how beautiful life is, not only because of the feelings, people, and experiences it brings us but how fragile and temporary all of it is. Yet, nothing makes us feel more alive and loved than sitting around a table with friends and family, basking in the sweet yet deep aroma of warm hot chocolate, while tasting the divine sweetness of a sugary-sweet churro. It does not end there though. The texture of a handmade plate with its cold to-the-touch ceramic slickness and a gently lit candle flame with the scent of serene lavender lights the dimly lit night sky filled with stars and cool wind. This lights the senses of everyone present and makes every moment of one’s encounter with this tradition even more memorable.

Mariana Sánchez

Mariana Sánchez (17) - Mexico City, Mexico

These are my great-grandfather’s glasses. His name was Indalecio Huitrón Miranda. I remember listening to his name and imagining how lovely getting to know him must have been. I never had the chance to do so. Grandfather Indalecio, also known as “Papalecho,” had a very entrepreneurial spirit. He dedicated his life to agriculture, cultivating citrus and coffee, and herding horses. In his last years of life, he put a candy stand on the corner of the main street of Teziutlán, a small town in the state of Puebla, here in Mexico. He was a humble, generous man, who led a tough, yet beautiful life. When my father told me stories about him and how he used to live, his glasses were always in the picture. This object, being so representative of him, was passed on to my grandfather and later on, to my dad. He tells me the Mexican glasses, made out of copper, are from the 1950s, approximately 70 years old. My father keeps them on a special shelf where they are safe from falling or breaking. I decided to take this photograph because the glasses and the picture behind them bring my father great memories of his grandpa. It is always very moving for me to experience these emotional moments with him. I will want the glasses to endure for a long time so that his memory stays with my family and is not left behind. Part of the reason behind taking this photograph is that the Day of the Dead is around the corner in Mexico right now. Even though this festivity is celebrated once a year, my family and I keep my great-grandfather’s memory alive through his copper glasses.

Makenna Hartwick

Makenna Hartwick (15) - Hawaii, U.S.

History on the Family Table

This artifact is a Sankyo music box that dates back to the 1960s, possibly even the 1950s. Made in Japan, it has been passed down through my maternal family, starting with my great-grandma. She gave it to my mother, who had it since childhood and traveled across the country with it. It was then given to my older sister who gave it to me. I conducted research for several hours to find exactly when it was made and if there are others like it, but have found no answers. When wound up, the music box plays a delightful tune which brings me joy and causes me to think of the others who have listened to it before me. 

Music is the only language that connects the whole Earth. It brings people together to dance, sing, have special moments, and make memories no matter what part of the world you are in. Each culture has its own unique style of music, but it is ultimately the joy of sound that unites us all. Not only is my artifact important to me, but the image in and of itself is one that I cherish. 

The table that this box stands on was built in 2012 by my father and me. It has lasted through many years of tears, arguments, dinner parties, craft activities, and family meals. Every day, my family comes together to eat dinner on this table with no phones, just real human connection. We talk about our days, our frustrations, and share genuine time together no matter how tired we are. I feel as though many people today lack human connection and could use a family dinner every once in a while. Although you can’t hear its little song, it still brings me joy. My music box is already tarnished with age and history, and in a few more decades, it may be broken and thrown away by its new owner. Despite that, this picture allows it to live on forever, a magnificent piece frozen in time.

Miguel Ángel Vargas Sosa

Miguel Ángel Vargas Sosa (17) - Mexico City, Mexico

The Ring and the Skull 

This photograph portrays a history of several generations. My great-grandfather lived in Mexico and he had a very complicated life. When he was a child, his family had no money. They were quite poor. He had to start working at a very young age to help his family, but he managed to continue studying and fulfilled his dream of becoming a doctor. At that time, students were allowed to have a real human skull for study and he had one. My great-grandfather began to work and with his first payment he bought the ring with his initials. This ring is more than 100-years-old. Many years passed and my grandfather was born. When he grew up, he followed his father's steps, becoming a doctor. The skull was passed on to him. Just like his father, he used the skull to study, and when my great-grandfather passed away he gave the ring to my grandfather. Many years later my father was born, and he decided that he would also become a doctor like his father. My grandfather gave him the skull. When my grandfather got sick, just days before he passed away at the age of 76, he gave the ring to my father and told him the story of where the ring came from and how important it was, just like his father once did. 

Today, my brother continues the tradition. He is studying medicine accompanied by the skull and when the time comes, the ring will pass into his hands. For me, the ring is the most important artifact because it's a symbol of the effort and progress made by my family to get to where we are. The ring is a memory of those who had it in their hands, it represents the passion and sacrifice of moving forward. It also reflects change and progress. The ring is a memory of who we were, a reminder of who we are, and represents who we will be.

Noa Polston Schwartz

Noa Polston Schwartz (14) - California, U.S.

The photo portrays poignancy. The artifact of this distrust being the American flag. The emotion and memories behind the photograph stem from the experiences of my ancestors, their struggles and failures, luck and victories, now only a story. The meaning of the American flag has been changing since it's very creation in 1777. For my grandfather, Miki, the flag was the embodiment of refuge. America, a place for new beginnings, limitless possibilities, as long as you believe. It was the place for lovers of hope and students of hard work. A land where everyone was created equal, given freely the right to pursue happiness. For my Saba, my grandfather, America was justice. Barely seventeen, he set off to America leaving the despicable horror of what was left of Nazi Germany as a surviving Jewish teenager just liberated from Buchenwald. America welcomed him with her strong arms and smile, whispering "good luck." 

Saba built a life for himself, learning exactly how to live opposite to a victim. Rising up with strength. America was good to him. And she was to many. What we need now is to be good for all. It seems to me that it's not our most recent years that have been so pivotal. America was never what it said. She lied to her suitors, feeding them hope when all she had was luck and bias, keeping the agonizing truth sealed into her red and blue lips. "Land of the free, home of the brave." How is this possible when over ten percent of America is food insecure? "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." What truths do women have? What can we grasp? "We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." Where is there honor? I see the fortunes funneling deeper and deeper to the top one percent. There are small children imprisoned at the spiked borders, metallic with fear. Our brothers and sisters of color marching in the streets and it's called rioting? Our basic reproductive rights being questioned? Our political system so divided over two white men, our police shooting when we are asleep, our country physically turning upside down from the drastic changes in our climate, children diving under desks at school for their lives, the anti-Semitic attacks filling our newspapers. Ask yourself: what does this flag now represent? How can we reclaim it, not just symbolically, but literally? How can we reclaim our America that we've lost to fear and hatred? We must remind her, show her, teach her that love is love, that trans lives matter, that people of color matter, that immigration camps are inhumane. We must spotlight our climate crisis, repair our hope, and reestablish our pride. As a fourteen-year-old little Jewish girl living in California, I hope to one day see an America that has achieved true justice for all. One that my grandfather and all my other ancestors can be proud of as well. And that one day, I can fly an American flag, understanding finally what true pride feels like.

Leela Khatri

Leela Khatri (16) - Ohio, U.S.

The celebration of Diwali has always held great importance to my family. I remember each celebration throughout my childhood as a blissful reflection of each year and the projection of hope for the future. For as long as I can remember, goddess Lakshmi’s framed picture has been around for our annual celebrations. To me, Lakshmi represents much more than the goddess of prosperity and good fortune. She holds the promise of happiness and is representative of eternal hope. I do not consider myself a religious person, yet the memories I have attached to Diwali will forever be priceless. A specific attachment I have with Diwali is the joy my grandfather had during that time of year. Every Diwali, he would take us shopping for new clothes to celebrate the new year and his beaming, radiant energy was contagious. Ultimately, I decided to take this photograph because I believe it captures the symbolism of Diwali. 

To celebrate, a simple mandir and a short prayer may suffice. Diwali is a perfect time for reflection. I love spending time with my family and recognizing how grateful I am for the support I receive every day. I believe that capturing this scene projects the warmth and invitation of Diwali, a celebration that represents new beginnings and the hope for a better future. The candles and prayer items that I decided to represent as my artifact connect to our common humanity in several ways. The first is a symbol of faith, an item that one may turn to when feeling discouraged or lost, and any artifact can provide that same solace. The second is the symbol of hope, which contains the strength and value of resilience. I find that sharing individual stories is a great way of projecting happiness and motivation to the world. I chose this artifact because it is something that truly projects joy in my life and allows me to keep moving forward even through tough times.

Carina Pepene

Carina Pepene (16) - Brasov, Romania

My photo depicts the beauty of the painstaking work behind the creation of the traditional Romanian costume. Worn and woven by women living in the rural area, the traditional Romanian costume is more than a piece of clothing; it connects generations and hundreds of years of history. Each region of Romania has its own particularities. Transylvania (especially Bran) is known for the simplistic white and black, occasionally red, pattern on the traditional blouse, also called the “ie.” Over the ie there is a vest embroidered with colorful beads that often form floral patterns and a thick belt called “brâu.” The woman looking out of the window is my grandma, wearing a 100-year-old ie, complete with other accessories that she got from her mother as a dowry. On her lap she is holding another ie she made when she was younger. “I might have been your age,” she nostalgically told me. My grandma never had a daughter to teach the mastery behind the traditional costume; it used to be one of the most valuable lessons passed down from mother to daughter. The traditional costume reflected the social status, the region, and the event. The ie was often made during sewing bees where locals would interact with each other, turning a simple gathering into a significant social event. When making parts of the national costume, such as the ie, the brâu, and the vest, women were weaving the destinies of future generations.

Zoey Lowe

Zoey Lowe (17) - Pennsylvania, U.S.

My grandpa Jerry started running in 1975 after he had a heart attack. He started by walking ten steps and then running ten steps. It took him about six months to be able to run around the block without walking. His main goal was eventually to run a marathon. He trained for four years to be able to run his first marathon in 1979, but he wasn’t able to run it completely. He ended up having to have another heart procedure, so he only did half the marathon that year. He was so proud that he was able to complete thirteen miles. The following year in 1980, his goal was to run the marathon, which he achieved. It took him about six hours and thirty minutes to run 26 miles. One time, when he was running in a green valley, he had to relieve himself. He wiped some parts of his body with poison ivy right before he completed the marathon. He thought this was going to stop him from running, but he ended up taking some steroids which helped him finish the marathon.

My mother and grandmother waited for my grandfather for hours after the marathon was officially over, wondering where he was. My grandfather said that he was still running through Central Park when it was very dark and he was one of the only ones left, but there were people cheering him on the whole time while he ran. He felt so exhilarated even though he was near the end of the pack. This just made him want to run more marathons and he continued running marathons for sixteen years. He completed a total of about sixteen to seventeen marathons, which included the London, Moscow, Marine Corps, Boston, and New York marathons. My grandfather, Jerry was not big on sports, but the one thing he did love was running and that was his exercise. It gave him real calmness and focus. He could think a lot and process his ideas while he ran. It was his savior in both his health and in his creativity.

Charly Scott

Charly Scott (17) - California, U.S.

In my photograph I wanted to capture the exact feeling I experienced when I began to stray from and question what I was used to. Religion has a big impact on me, yet it is one of the most confusing aspects of my life. I think many other teens can relate to this feeling of hopelessness, questioning the unknown, especially if they live in a religious household. The older we get the more we begin to question what has been taught to us and ingrained into our heads since adolescence. Especially now with the current events happening in the world you begin to wonder, Is someone watching me up there? Can they see all this suffering? But most of all, can anyone up there help me. Is there an anyone or anything at all? This photograph reflects the yearning I have felt for an answer or a sign. I understand this may be controversial to some, but this is what life is like for a teen now. We are given all this knowledge and yet we feel so out of touch with the world and everything we believe in. Every time I look at this rosary I feel a sense of guilt for not being as devoted as most, but there is nothing wrong with questioning the things around us. Questioning life, morals, beliefs, and science is what has made us advance as a species.

Naomi Delkamiller

Naomi Delkamiller (17) - Nebraska, U.S.

I have been a student during a pandemic for six months now and have yet to find a routine. Sure, I have a virtual school schedule, a file of Zoom links, and a desk in my room, but I thought this universal change in education deserves a bigger picture. I placed my camera on the roof of my home over the summer and used a remote timer to capture myself in the grass below, blankly staring at a screen that seemed to glow on forever. Sitting behind a Zoom screen is my artifact, my frozen moment, an external expression of my internal confession: I miss connection. This photo represents a time where I missed putting on my red sneakers every day and acts as a reminder of how much I crave to learn. This photo is a reflection of how much life has seemed to shrink. It is a living memory that is shared beyond me. This moment in time is an artifact that was not passed down to me or welcomed with open arms. It is a period of time that is mine as much as it is yours. We have all lost something. For most of us, we lost the everyday connection that writes the story of our lives. I hope that someday this artifact will change into a new picture—one of community, in-person learning, and more.


Riya Garg

Riya Garg (17) - Florida, U.S.

This artifact, a special candle and flowers placed on a tray, is part of a ritual in my culture called Arti. The goal of Arti is to cleanse the air of any darkness and to give thanks to our gods. The candle, called a deepak, is lit and placed in the middle of the tray, representing the deity’s power. While everyone sings a song to praise the deity, the tray circles around the figure of our deity. It passes through each family so everyone can give their respects. One cups one’s hand over the flame and brings it to the forehead, and passes the blessing of the god to each person. The deepak is special in this time of year because of the holiday Diwali, the festival of lights, where we light deepaks and place them all over our house, representing purity in the home. Usually on Diwali a huge celebration occurs, where you can see deepaks everywhere since it's the main symbol of Diwali. I captured this photograph during Arti when my parents were doing a ritual with the priest to give blessings and ensure good luck.

Marlene Auer

Marlene Auer (16) - Weimar, Germany

Navigating Progress 

We live in a constantly moving and developing world. We have rapidly progressed from gravel to asphalt roads and from maps to complex technological navigation systems. We use the nighttime to work and travel just as commonly as daytime, which is what my photograph reflects. I used a low ISO value, a focal ratio of 6, and a shutter speed of 7 seconds to create this light photography without using Photoshop or any other editing software. The photograph expresses how the world is changing in several ways. One is how nighttime is becoming more important. The photograph is set on a classic motorway to show how we continuously hurry forward in our technological inventions and scientific discoveries worldwide. The white rectangles in the center feature a modern navigation system. It is blank because we do not know for sure where our future will take us. The scribbly looking lines signify the difficulties of our forward progressing and changing lifestyle. 

Although we may not know where our future will take us, we can try to push it in specific directions. We can program a destination to an environmentally friendly, planet-preserving future. We used to have to rely on our biological orientation and do a lot of planning to get somewhere. However nowadays, we all rely on what computers calculate for us, which gives us more time to spend with our family and friends and connect on a social level. It is up to us how we spend this free time. Our changing lifestyle is also connected to our constantly increasing use of the internet. A navigation system, online or offline, connects people and places because we use it to travel to other places and meet new people. Even though this picture is taken on a mid-German motorway, we can find similar scenarios all around the world. Everyone uses roads and some means of transportation. 

The knowledge and ideas contributing to technological improvements and scientific inventions have been passed down from generation to generation over centuries. Every generation continues to offer something different and unique in all areas of life, especially in art, music, technology, and psychology. This is how we manage to achieve progress in our society. We can all remember the stories our grandparents told us about the past and the boredom we felt while traveling in a car as a small child, although everything was moving by so quickly. Motorways are an essential aspect of our lives today. We use them to travel and to transport food and other economic goods. 

I think they should be a building block for future generation’s lifestyles. This photograph represents how our lifestyles have progressed quickly until now and will continue to advance rapidly in the future. We have to stop and freeze time for a second with a picture like this so we can look back later and see the different steps in our progress.

Xiaolong Zhao

Xiaolong Zhao (19) - Baotou, Inner Mongolia, China

The objects in the picture are called the Four Treasures of the Study. They are brushes, inkstones, paperweights, and Xuan paper. On the right of the photograph, one brush is made of wolf hair and the other is made of wool. They have different nib hardnesses because they have different functions. On the top of the picture is the inkstone decorated by a carved dragon and a Chinese scroll, which symbolizes majesty. The inkstone is a special stone, and its function is to hold the ink stick that will be ground and mixed with water to make liquid ink, which will be transferred to the right container. On the left of the picture are two paperweights, and the pattern on them is bamboo from the Three Friends of Winter. These two heavier stones are responsible for keeping the paper flat. In the middle is Xuan paper, a specially crafted calligraphy paper. The word written on the paper is 福(blessing)—this Chinese character symbolizes peace and happiness. My mother and I like to use these tools to practice calligraphy. In the picture, I am writing calligraphy. My mother taught me calligraphy when I was very young. For my family, calligraphy not only represents a skill; it also cultivates one's mind and temperament. Because of my studies, I do not have time to study calligraphy systematically. Whenever I have free time, I always like to open the window and let the sunshine and breeze sprinkle onto the desk in the warm afternoon air. I like to feel the roughness of the ink particles and the smoothness of the Xuan paper, and forget all the worries in life to make my artwork. 

I have always been curious about the evolution of other scripts, such as the ancient Greek alphabet, Egyptian hieroglyphs, cuneiform, and Indus Scripts. Unfortunately, these scripts and their cultures have all fallen into the long river of history. These characters are like mysterious codes waiting for humans to crack. There is only a little connection between them and the modern scripts, and their vitality is like a flame from a burned out candle. At this time, I feel the greatness of Chinese characters more and more. This is the only living ancient writing system with its own unique writing methods and instruments. I feel very fortunate that my culture is not locked away in a museum. It is in the homes of ordinary Chinese people who love and are still writing calligraphy, a part of the Chinese culture. Whenever I hold a brush, I feel I am connected to history. Whether it is ancient poetry or novels, ancient military orders or edicts, they were all written with the tools in my hand and the characters I use. How romantic is this! It's like passing the Olympic flame. Every Chinese dynasty, every Chinese emperor, and every ordinary person will pass the Chinese culture from generation to generation. The fire of the times burns traces of the old dynasty, but they cannot burn away all the traces of culture. This is not only a miracle for the Chinese people but also a miracle for humanity. Today, Chinese traditional culture has met with modern development. Calligraphy has a new life, and people don't need to commemorate it because it still exists.

Mercer Weis

Mercer Weis (17) - California, U.S.

San Francisco, one of California's largest and busiest cities, is home to one of the most extraordinary landmarks in history: The Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge, standing at a height of a staggering 227 meters and spanning 1.7 miles across the beautiful San Francisco Bay, connects the big city of San Francisco and the mountainous Marin County. For almost ninety years, the Golden Gate Bridge has offered the public a convenient, effective, and trustworthy form of transportation. After surviving a massive earthquake and human gridlock, the bridge still stands as one of the world’s largest bridges. Thousands of construction workers and materials built the bridge. One construction piece, the rivet, played a small but vital part in the formation and development of the Golden Gate Bridge. The artifact I have photographed is one of the 600,000 rivets installed in the Golden Gate Bridge when it was first built. 

I am lucky enough to have a personal connection with the famous Golden Gate Bridge. My great-grandfather, Edwin Fraser, served as a President on the Golden Gate Bridge Board. He represented Del Norte County on a Board of forty-two other presidents. Before his appearance on the Board of Presidents, my great-grandfather was elected by the majority in his district to represent them in this stunning feat of bridge building. On January 23, 1929, my great-grandfather, along with the other presidents and top bridge engineer firms in the country, met for the first time to draft their management plans for the next four years. My great-grandfather voted on the bridge act, a three-cent tax paid by taxpayers, and many other provisions proposed by geologists, engineers, and fellow board members. The Golden Gate Bridge Board of Directors and Presidents earned a $35 million grant to build the Golden Gate Bridge. After four years of hard and challenging work, the first day of construction for the Golden Gate Bridge finally came on January 5, 1933. During the next four years, my great-grandfather collaborated with his fellow members to set goals for his workers to create the Golden Gate Bridge.

Finally, on May 27, 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge opened to the public. As a token of my great-grandfather’s success, he was given a small red rivet, a replica of the ones used in the Golden Great Bridge, to take home. This artifact has made its way down to me, his great-grandson. I have the honor of keeping this meaningful artifact with my immediate family, and hopefully, will pass it down to the next generation. Although this rivet itself is not a part of the Golden Gate Bridge, it represents the bridge’s purpose. The rivet is a symbol of a bridge that provides transportation to 112,000 vehicles and 27,000 tourists a day. The rivets themselves make up the bridge’s skeleton, one of the most critical structures in the bridge. The rivet embodies the innovative nature of the bridge and its technological breakthroughs at the time. Without these rivets, people would not have a convenient form of transportation today in a city bustling with traffic. It brings people together in one grand location to look out onto the San Francisco Bay. The message behind this rivet expresses the true purpose of an artifact. It is a symbol of one of our greatest achievements for the well-being of mankind.

Marz Landon

Marz Landon (17) - New Mexico, U.S.

This music box belonged to my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Baker Lamm, in the early 1900s. She always kept it on her dresser, no matter where she lived, as a precious keepsake. She was born in Dillon, Montana, in 1915 and was the oldest of five siblings. When she turned five, her family moved to Portland, Oregon. As the eldest, she took care of her siblings while her mother went out. She graduated high school in 1933 as the valedictorian and was offered a full scholarship to the prestigious Reed College. However, it was the height of the Depression. She turned down the opportunity to attend college and instead found a job to help support her parents and siblings. She held two jobs throughout the Depression. She got married, and her husband left her in 1940 when she was eight months pregnant! Forced to move back home again, she worked long hours as the first female manager at the big department store in Portland. She found a second job as a receptionist for a medical clinic on Saturdays.

In 1945, a man came in complaining of a headache. He fell in love with her and hired her to run the finances of his business. His business became successful in the post World War II economy. They worked together twelve hours a day, six days a week, for close to forty years. Little did they know they would be married in 1952. Their finances were tight, so we know my great-grandmother would not have been able to afford the music box on her own. It is unknown who gave it to her, but it was likely her husband for an anniversary gift. She treasured the music box as one of her most prized possessions. The music box still works, though it is rusty and a little out of tune. After winding it up a few times, it slowly plays the music that she used to love and appreciate so much. While listening to it, my mother and grandmother have memories of her smell, laugh, and smile. They often tell me about how she could light up a room. Admired for her selfless attitude towards life, she worked hard and persevered. I aspire to be like her—to work hard and be kind wherever I go.

Maja Szpunar

Maja Szpunar (15) - Hawaii, U.S.

This strój Krakowski has been passed down in my family as a tradition for generations. It is a traditional Polish folk costume from the town of Kraków and is worn on holidays. I feel connected with the people in my life through this object because, although I was born in Hawai’i, a piece of Poland is close. It helps me to remember where I am from and it connects me to our tradition. More than thirty years ago, my auntie Marlena was the original owner of this strój Krakowski. When she was young, she wore the vest with its flower crown and ditsy skirt on Easter celebrations, an important Polish tradition. Just as my aunt once did, I wore this outfit as a young child while I played with traditional Polish decorated wooden Easter eggs. I remember observing the detailed patterns at the age of two, feeling the texture along the vests’ beaded surface and lacing up the back with its silk string. 

This artifact offers a glimpse of how times have changed, as I imagine the strój Krakowski sewn and embroidered by hand in a small Polish village. This contrasts with  today’s culture where everything is mass-produced in distant factories and sold in corporate department stores. I am still part of this culture today, even though I live far away. My dad was born in Poland where his family dates back for generations. I live in Maui and many people are considered and treated like family. Yet, I have always felt like something was missing. I learned about Poland, Polish traditions, and about my family in this other country, but I have never experienced it for myself. This artifact gives me hope for the future. I hope to visit Poland and experience the stories I have been told. No matter what your background is, the human element of tradition is a way for all of us to connect with our culture and ancestors. It allows us to pass on the history of our ancestors and the lessons they learned to future generations. One day, I hope to pass this artifact and its story to a future generation.

Gemma Rossi

Gemma Rossi (14) - California, U.S.

For Italians, pasta is a crucial part of daily life. Not only is it a staple of the Italian diet, but the craft of making pasta is passed down from generation to generation. From a pile of flour and an egg, traditional Italian women knead the dough with their hands into the tagliatelle con raggù that my father grew up eating every day in his home on the Adriatic coast. The artifact is not the pasta, but what is used to make the pasta. A tagliere (tale-YAY-ray), a large wooden board, is the surface on which pasta dough is kneaded and rolled out with a mattarello (Mat-TA-rel-lo), or rolling pin. Kept in every Italian family’s household, they are either used daily for traditional pasta or used for making pasta on special occasions. Our tagliere and mattarello are not passed down relics. They were a wedding gift made by Luciano Drudi, the old woodworker who lived across the street from my father’s childhood home in Borella. I will now inherit the tagliere and mattarello so I can make pasta just like my babbo taught me. The pasta will then be eaten by family and friends and will disappear as the night goes on. Italians end the night with liquirizia and gelato. Who doesn’t feel the connection created by good food?

Macey Aven

Macey Aven (16) - Florida, U.S.

I photographed a statue of the Virgin Mary, an important figure in my religion and in my childhood. I took this photograph at St. Mark's Church, where I was baptized and received my communion. My great-grandparents were devout Christians from Italy who brought their religious customs to the United States. Growing up, I spent much of my time at the church or around those with a Christian influence. I wanted to share the beauty that I saw myself in these familiar statues and buildings.

Ella Andersen

Ella Andersen (14) - California, U.S.

Artifacts in our everyday lives connect those we love and bring us together. I photographed "My Friend Flicka" by Mary O'Hara. This book was given to my great-grandfather, Victor, and it was given to him by his late sister Gloria in 1943. This copy was published in 1941, making it 79 years old. It sat on my papa's shelf above his bed for many years and now it sits on mine. The book has been passed down for two generations and I hope to continue this trend. This book is very special to me and my family. It shows us an aspect of my papa's family that we didn't know; he and Gloria had a great love for the country and horses. Gloria wrote to him the following words on the first page of this book: "To Vic, with the hope that one day his wish to own a horse will come true. May it be soon." These words from Gloria were one of the last things she said to my papa. Though my papa has passed, this book will forever remain significant in my life. It contains joyful memories and hope. One day, I hope to pass this very special book down to another generation.

Connor Simpkins

Connor Simpkins (14) - Pennsylvania, U.S.

When my grandfather received this coat, it was too big for him. He was used to getting clothes that didn’t fit. When you’re poor, you never get clothes in the right size. At the end of the 1940s he was thirteen years old, the same age I am now. The coat was bare except for his name embroidered on the collar. The label inside says, “Carters. Watch-the-Wear. Union Made.” He was about to travel from Hartford, Connecticut, on a train trip (which he won in a writing contest) across the United States and Canada. The train conductors would be his guardians. He would eat, sleep, and live on trains. He saw the entire country, and for each train line he rode, he collected patches. He gathered them from the Shawmut Line in Massachusetts, the Lackawanna Railway in New York, the East Coast Railway in Florida, the Sunset Limited between New Orleans and Los Angeles, the Pacific Northwest Railway, and countless routes in between. He saw every part of this country as well as some of Canada. He sewed a patch from each train line onto his coat. He watched out the window, witnessed sights he had never imagined, including the mirror-like lakes of the Canadian Rockies, the vastness of the midwestern plains, and the never ending rows of crops state after state. He filled his days and took in the sights, read books, and talked to strangers. There wasn’t the internet to look up what he was going to see; every day was new. 

The coat was covered in patches by the time he returned home. Each patch was an artifact, which told the story of its place and its time. The coat itself tells the story of my grandfather and the patches tell the story of the American train lines. Some of the train lines still exist, some have been renamed or merged, some are gone. Each patch represents a conductor proud of his route when train travel was more common in our country. This artifact is a reminder of a different time when it was okay to send a thirteen-year-old across the country alone. Trains connect every part of this country. I am wearing my grandfather’s coat, looking at train tracks near my house. When I look down the train tracks, I think of him, his journey, and how he discovered his country through travel. “People are a lot like the train lines,” he said to my mom. They may look different on the outside, but they are all connected. This artifact connects me to my grandfather, a man I never had the opportunity to meet. When I wear his coat, I imagine how he felt on his trip: nervous, excited, and proud. His coat reminds my family about the value of making the most of what we are given, and of saying yes to opportunities when they are offered, no matter how scary they seem because you never know what you might see, learn, or get to do.

Photographer statements have been lightly edited. 

Thank you to our Educator Advisory Committee members Mike Dunn, Sophia Giegerich, Paula Ospina, Dr. Emily Schell, and Dr. Cheryl Wright for their support with this contest.

Back to the Top

More to Explore