Inside Your Fridge

 

In this particular instance, the mess of shapes and colours was a challenge but a real pleasure to shoot. Photograph/Stephanie De Rouge

In this particular instance, the mess of shapes and colours was a challenge but a real pleasure to shoot. Photograph/Stephanie De Rouge

Stephanie De Rouge shoots the contents of urban people’s refrigerators, in an effort to explore how they live and eat.

This story was originally published in November 2011.

My Assignment

  • Description: To shoot simple diptychs of people along with the food they eat, by photographing their fridge.
  • Duration: The series took two years to execute.
  • Notes: The contents of a person’s fridge may change with the season. So, plan your shoot accordingly!

Over the past three years, I have been trying to explore the intricacies of urban culture. With specific photo projects, I have been trying to understand how people eat, live and survive the pressures of a megalopolis. After all, cities are vast and overflowing with people.
The fact that people find any time at all for themselves or for those around them is nothing short of a miracle. I was also curious to find out how city dwellers find their resources, where they hide their secrets and how do people make time for simple pleasures, given their busy and stressful city lives.
To find out more, I asked myself what is the most intimate place in a person’s house. Several ideas popped in my head like people’s drawers, purses… and it suddenly hit me! Since food seems to be one of the most discussed topics in modern times, I decided to shoot the insides of people’s fridges.

My Perspective
I was interested in getting to know the people I photographed on a more personal level. I wanted them to tell me their stories, how they first got to the city, what made them shift to the city and how they are currently managing their hectic lives.
Besides the many laughs and interesting stories that the project was bound to generate, this was the first time that people were actually looking into their refrigerators.
The contents speak volumes of the people they are, the lifestyles they lead, their unusual and quirky eating habits and so on. For instance, I shot a diptych of a guy who only keeps liquids in his refrigerator. One might wonder how someone can survive only on liquids and no solid food. On talking to him, I realised that his lifestyle is such that he prefers takeaway meals.
Come to think of it, it is said that we are what we eat. The next time you see someone cook something or place an order at a restaurant or café, ask yourself, does it tell you anything about that person’s likes or dislikes? Does he have a sweet tooth? Or is he restless and craves a cup of tea wherever he goes? Or maybe, he may love his alcohol and likes to have a good time.
Peeking into a refrigerator is a similar study because it not only tells us what an individual eats, but also tells us how the various people in that house live.

The Process
When I first began shooting, I started out by saying that I was making simple portraits of New Yorkers. I would ask people to allow me into their homes so that I could shoot them in their natural environment and later request access to their fridge. Unfortunately, most families were reluctant and would say things like, “I just came back from vacation and did not have time for grocery shopping.” On the other hand, when someone agreed, the shoot would be quick and easy.
Before shooting, I engage the person in conversation, to relieve pressure and awkwardness. Also, at the beginning of the shoot I always pretend that I am doing some test shots and setting the lights. This helps me capture better portraits as the people are much more at ease and I end up with good pictures.
Since the light inside a fridge can be extremely variable, I would shoot several different exposures and merge them into a High Dynamic Range image. This would help ensure that all elements were properly exposed. After the first pair was created, I have always made sure I follow a consistent flow for the other images.
Since this project heavily depended on absolute strangers, I always made sure to send them a print of the finished photograph. The fact that the project not only allowed me to shoot the contents of people’s fridges but also let me shoot them in their private space was a double reward. Interestingly enough, I learnt that people are not always what they seem to be.

My Equipment: Since fridges can be huge or tiny, I decided to use a Nikon D700 with a Sigma wide angle lens. I ended up using the same lens to photograph the portraits too, in order to maintain the uniformity.

When Shooting a People-based Project

  • Do Trials before the Shoot: Start by shooting your own fridge and then shoot fridges of friends. This should give you an idea about how to handle light and possible framing options.
  • People are Your Priority: Understand the needs and concerns of your subjects. The lighting, technique and composition are secondary.
  • Use Audio: Carry a recording device with you. It will help document people’s conversations and can add an interesting perspective to the series.

To view more of Stephanie’s photographs, you can visit http://www.stephaniederouge.com/

Tags: Composition, Diptych, November 2011, On Assignment, portrait, projects