What’s a “Refrigerator Portrait?”

December 21, 2010 at 3:11 pm Leave a comment

It didn’t take us long to recognize a brilliant idea when we saw it. Texas photographer Mark Menjivar took pictures of the contents of the refrigerators of a fascinating variety of individuals. He appends captions that tell us just the barest facts about the fridge owners, allowing the images to help us imagine what their lives are like.  Here’s one of my favorites:

Image of a fridge packed with takeout boxes

Bar Tender | San Antonio, TX | 1-Person Household | Goes to sleep at 8AM and wakes up at 4PM daily.

This person is living a take-out life. And what is that flag doing there?

Interior of curator Karen Falk's fridge

My own refrigerator, shown in a previous post, could be captioned, “Empty-nester/Pototmac, MD/2-person household/Commutes to work three hours each day; husband does all grocery shopping and cooking.”

Menjivar explains, “An intense curiosity about the foods we consume and the effects they have on us as individuals and communities led me to begin to make these unconventional portraits. A refrigerator is both a private and a shared space.  One person likened the question, “May I photograph the interior of your fridge?” to asking someone to pose nude for the camera.”

He’s right: these refrigerator portraits can be remarkably revealing. So we determined to ask American Jews to send us portraits of their refrigerators. Some of the pictures we’ve received, showing refrigerators or freezers packed to the gills, bear out the stereotype that we are a food-obsessed people. Others, such as my own, could lead someone to ask (as our friends have teased), “Are you sure you’re Jewish?”
Giving credit where due, we are not alone in collecting these images. There are several Flickr groups that specialize in refrigerator images. Fridge Portraits-Fridge Fever (“This group is dedicated to pictures which show how your fridge sees you. Not how you see your fridge.”) has almost 300 members and 340 images. What’s That in Your Fridge? has 675 members. Even NPR got into the act when, after a short piece on photographer Mark Menjivar, listeners were encouraged to post their fridges to the NPR Flickr site.
We have just begun to collect refrigerator portraits, and invite you to send us a photo of your own refrigerator and/or freezer – you can upload a photo to our flickr group: http://www.flickr.com/groups/chosenfood_fridgephotos/ or email it to curator@chosenfood.org.  Write a brief caption similar to those above that tells us what you do, where you live, how many people live in your household, and one or two important facts that affect the way you eat. Several of the photos we receive will be selected for display in the Chosen Food exhibit, all will be made available on the Chosen Food website (still under construction), and we will comment on them in future posts on this blog.
The images we are collecting reveal a community of great diversity, but there are issues and concerns that continue to connect us. We thank you for helping us to explore 21st century American Judaism in this unique way!

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What has a place in your refrigerator ONLY because your family is Jewish? Tuesday Tidbit: The REAL American Pie?

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