In 2015, the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) came to New Orleans to hold their their annual Summer Symposium at the Joy Theater. The long weekend provided plenty of opportunities to eat at the city's best restaurants, but the SFA - an organization committed to documenting the oral histories surrounding food in the American south - wanted to go deeper. On an initial discovery call, they expressed a desire to get to know the people of New Orleans better - though the quick weekend, jam-packed with conference sessions, didn't provide much space to get to know the city. The SFA wanted to hear the 'food stories' from real, local New Orleanians just as much as the food-centric historians and chefs that they were bringing in to speak.
ROOTED worked with the SFA to first create a central question for local New Orleanians: Tell me a story about food. We agreed on an intentionally open-ended theme in order to solicit a broad spectrum of stories. ROOTED then took to the streets, interviewing and photographing 20 people across the city. The stories we captured ranged from 'I came out to my family of 250 people over Thanksgiving dinner' to 'I get made fun of for still enjoying fruit rollups and goldfish.' From 'nobody cooks like my mama cooked' to 'I actually used to enjoy eating the dog food' to 'I'll never forget the smell of the refrigerators after Katrina.' And the people we selected to interview were just as diverse in their life histories, neighborhoods, ages, races, interests, etc.
From there, we blew the images up and created a life-size exhibit of portraits and stories to line the inside of the Joy Theater, where the event was being held. This gave conference attendees a chance to come face to face with a broad swath of New Orleanians, and read the compelling, funny, strange, deep, or wild stories they had to share around the theme of food.
At the end of the conference, the organizers said:
"Claire’s compelling and sincere work made it feel like the city was all around us. Her portraits encompassed the audience, dissolving barriers between visitor and local. It was especially moving to watch our members walk up to the faces and lives of New Orleans and engage within a close proximity and an empathetic curiosity, as if they were not meeting a stranger but an old friend."
Click below to see some of the images we created and read the stories that accompanied them.