Photographing American diners: when nostalgia becomes political
Leah Frances has spent the past 10 years photographing American restaurants. His American squares, as she called them when she started sharing her images on Instagram and later, in 2019, in a book of the same name, are “sticky snapshots… with big cars, sparkling restaurants, neon signs, the open road,” she told Preview. “[They are] a romantic, idealized mythology of America that I think was sort of based on the past and that I probably formed by watching too many American movies as a child.
This week Frances is releasing her second photo book. Called lunch poems, it is the continuation of what it started with American Squares, but with, this time, a more political connotation. Most of the photos that make up lunch poems were made between 2016 and 2021 — during the presidency of Donald Trump and the covid-19 pandemic. Not much has changed in the way Frances frames her Americana squares. The plastic stools and cubicles, the old-fashioned jukeboxes, the colorful wallpapers, the evocative neon signs are still there, often photographed when the light of the setting sun envelopes all these elements in the most associated warm tones. to memories.
These objects and places may not have changed between American Squares and Lunch Poems, but for Frances these icons of Americana have become mixed politics. “During the creation and editing of Lunch Poems, the influence of nostalgia on a segment of the American population, which seemed to want to return to something that felt better in the past, to return to “great again “like a plan for the future, had become almost deafening,” she said. “In the edit, I tried to highlight our political division by emphasizing the empty spaces that the one could define as particularly American — like restaurants,” she said. “I focused on places where we could meet, if we could come to an agreement.”
The work also alludes to the environmental crisis. “It’s always looming in my mind,” Frances said. “As our business emptied and shut down during the pandemic, the world started to feel almost post-apocalyptic to me. In particular, I was thinking of extreme weather events: forest fires, floods, global warming and the resulting economic disruption and food and water insecurity. Would the world become uninhabitable? What would that look like? So in one photo (above), Frances leaned her lens against a window. “We see the man-made object, the jukebox, but it’s not being played. And we also notice the plant life. , plants invade a vacant human world”.
This photo, and many others in lunch poems, might create a feeling of sadness, but that’s not Frances’ intention. Instead, the artist hopes people will ask themselves, “Can we come to any deal?” Is there a reason to move on? It’s hard to imagine, but what other choice is there? »