Photo Essay

The Back of the House Project


The "Back of the House" is a way for me to photographically assimilate into the more human side of the culinary community. With camera in hand, I've gone through swinging doors into the kitchens of top restaurants in an effort to capture an unseen version of the restaurant world. This collection of photographs studies restaurants' often unrecognized subcultures; they present artistry, diligence, and precision, reveal internal issues among staff members, and display enduring camaraderie throughout the chaos. Working in kitchens while pursuing my BFA in photography inspired me to preserve today's contemporary culinary environment in photographic form. There is more presented on a plate than just food.

As America becomes more aware of what it eats, it remains unknowing of the people who make and serve it's food. Gradually, a new base of restaurant-related agriculture is emerging--one that is not necessarily perceived as a member of the service industry, but relies on skilled and tireless craftsmen all the same. As it becomes more and more important that every ingredient from lettuce to goat's milk is treated with utmost care, each meal prepared becomes more deeply rooted in the quality of the fields where food is grown. Though this awareness is noteworthy, it is not what makes a meal or what puts plates in front of diners. Whether restaurant cuisine is ecologically sensitive or not, it is rooted in the familiar restaurant mode and model: chefs cook and waiters wait. Menus change as quickly as the harvest, in the same way that the staff of a kitchen turns over from spring to summer. The true heart of fine cuisine is not found in photographs of elaborately plated dishes, or in made-in-advance reservations for jacket-required dining rooms, or in four-star reviews. It resides in what culinaires define as mise en place: all ingredients and equipment necessary to prepare a dish, ready and waiting to be set into action. This project aims to capture all of these points mise en scene.

Michael Harlan Turkell


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1 response

  • Alistair Keddie

    Alistair Keddie (Deleted) gave props (22 Jun 2009):

    Very cool, love the shots

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