I also began “Waffle House Vistas” against the backdrop of challenging political times: the trauma of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the activism that followed; the rhetoric of the 2018 midterm elections and their consequences; the threat and eventual occurrence of a government shutdown over the holidays. While I did not want the tonality of these photographs altered by those events, in truth, they were.
There was no way around it. These photographs contemplate our volatile political and economic climate and do so explicitly from the vantage point of Waffle House restaurants. My approach had its own rules: I would eat at every Waffle House I entered and make images only from where I was seated. I wanted to have a complete Waffle House experience every time. Not only did it give the photographs the authenticity I wanted, but it also compensated the restaurant for taking up a table, especially during prime dining hours. I ordered a full breakfast at the first restaurant of the day and would order coffee and a side of toast at the remaining stores, as it was customary for me to visit multiple locations in one day while I was traveling.
Why Waffle House? Why not McDonald's or Hardee's? Three reasons: consistency, personal relationship, and the chain's iconic status.
I felt that I needed a constant from which to study our built environment, and the relative sameness of Waffle House restaurants allowed me that ability. Whether you like it or not, Waffle House is your neighborhood diner, replicated thousands of times over. The restaurants are relatively the same, architecturally speaking, as are the menu, the prices, and the experience. This replication of experience was the conceptual underpinning of this project, and that repetition is illustrated in the images.
While the interiors would vary depending on the age of the restaurant, the signifiers that these photographs are made from within Waffle Houses are consistent: the iconic globe lights, the red vinyl booths, the semi-opaque blinds and their beaded chains, the identical tabletop arrangements. Those elements were constant wherever I went, as was the service. I visited approximately 60 restaurants in nine different states and never once had a bad experience. Sometimes my bacon was undercooked or I was served white toast instead of wheat, but I was never treated poorly, nor was anyone else.