the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

BACK TO THE BLUE PLATE

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The lunch crowd at Beach House Tacos, Ventura, California, 2022

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THERE IS A KIND OF ROMANCE, CALL IT A CULT OF THE INDIVIDUAL, that informs our love of what can only be called The Great American Joint. We have a special affection for the one-location, one owner store or restaurant that outlasts global competitors. We revel in diners that celebrate “100 years at the same location” or burger stands that offer only one house specialty (no substitutions!) And it is altogether appropriate that Americans, in particular, should hold the Moms-and-Pops of the world dear. After all, we did everything we could to put them out of business.

The multiple-location business model was actually born in the U.K. in the 1700’s but really hit its stride in the States in the1860’s when a local New York tea shop owner opened multiple branches around the city. By 1900, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (or the A&P to you) became the first true grocery chain, and from there, the chain movement exploded to include hardware and department stores, hotels, clothiers, drugstores and, most importantly, restaurants. Over a hundred years later, chains offer familiarity and reliability as we move from one golden arch to the next, but they also starve the landscape of variety and, worse for photographers, distinctive visual experiences.

That’s why I doggedly seek out joints when traveling and shooting. The food varies wildly in quality, and that’s just fine: one man’s uncertainty is another man’s adventure, if you like. Beyond that, joints offer the chance to celebrate the different, the odd, the innovative. Chains are all about guaranteed outcomes. With Bob’s Crab Shack or the Keep Portland Weird Cafe you never know what you’ll get, and, for the sake of the pictures, unpredictability is a strength. And, in terms of karmic balance, it’s only fair that the country that tried to un-invent the private business learn, in its maturity, how to nurture what’s left. And if that means occasionally eating at a place where we have only one kind of burger, made daily on the premises, and when we’re out we’re out.….well, then, save me a seat. I’ll be with you as soon as I switch lenses.

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