Stephanie de Rouge – a French photographer based in New York is on a self-proclaimed quest for intimate images. Like many photographers, she is eager to get at the “truth” of her subject, to probe beyond how people present themselves and to delve into the aspects of their selves they might not put on display.
She began a project of shooting New Yorkers in their bedrooms, but didn’t feel that she was getting deep enough. She explained that the often transient nature of the New York apartment was “not a good setting for a long term relationship with one [sic?] self.” And in the course of this project, she asked someone for something to drink. And, there, “L’Ego au Frigo” was born.
The English title of the project is “In Your Fridge” but I think that a better translation of the French title is “The Self/Ego in the Fridge.” de Rouge says at the bottom of her artist statement, “Show me
what you eat your refrigerator and I’ll show you who you are? Maybe. Maybe not.”
The images themselves are tantalizing. She gives no information about her subjects beyond their names and locations and the groups are surprisingly diverse.
Andrew and Framton, from Brooklyn, open the set. Do we assume that they are gay? Heterosexual roommates?
Does what we see in their fridge tip our assumptions one way or the other? They eat tofu, hummus, and lots of fresh vegetables. Does this perhaps line up with a health conscious, hip, foodie, gay Brooklynite vibe? We’re forced to confront what our ideas about diet tell us about the identities of the subjects.
There’s also a question of national identity (or attachment to place) that runs throughout the project. de Rouge expanded her subject base from just New York to include Paris and the results prompt a comparison between the stereotypes of the food-conscious Parisien and the too busy to cook New Yorker. Closing in on the particular, the individual’s food habits, helps illuminate some of the cracks in our universal assumptions.
While de Rouge doesn’t comment on the project on her website, she has done a little bit of press. In an interview with a French-language paper, she reveals that she thinks of the fridge as a “lair” or a place where one can “release your neurosis,” a place where part of the “repressed” self emerges (these are rough translations, forgive me!).
Interestingly, these are all the fridges of urbanites. Perhaps there is more in common between Parisian and New York fridges than between the contents of fridges in Los Angeles and Cambria, California (which, although close in geography are radically different in population size, proximity to produce production, and market accessibility).
In “In Your Fridge,” some products cross national boundaries as well as those of age, presumed socioeconomic class, and family “type.” For example, Monique’s Parisian fridge reveals some of the same beverages as Kadafi’s New Jersey clan…
What do we think we can assume about these people’s heritage? Their living situation? Do the foods they consume link them somehow to their politics? Their country of origin? There is such an effort on the part of advertising to make us feel that we can represent ourselves in terms of our purchases. Does this hold true for food?
Hiro eats tofu and there is Japanese writing on a package in the door of his fridge. Does this tell us that he wants to maintain a connection to his Asian heritage? Peter and Framton also eat tofu, but we make no assumptions about a specific national/cultural meaning in that case. For them, the tofu carries potential lifestyle assumptions. Amongst the fresh veggies, wine, and home-cooked leftovers, the tofu means something completely different than it does placed beside stacks of packaged foods.
I don’t think that these portraits can reveal the “self” in the fridge, but I do think that they can help reflect the assumptions of the viewer and demonstrate the ways in which the meanings of food shift, are contingent upon their context. Meaning does not inhere in any particular product. The owner of the fridge and the other products contained within help construct a web of meanings, interconnected and interdependent.