Loyal CB readers will remember seeing David Lopez's series, "Have A Nice Day" in issue one. What was originally asked as a favor turned into an ongoing body of work, and recently released book, dedicated to capturing the fast food industry. We sat down with David almost a year after the project started to catch up, gain some insight and share some of his newest additions with you all.
This project was originally featured in the first issue of Compound Butter. Had you been toying with this idea before we asked you to contribute?
No, it all started with your magazine. I had no idea what I was going to do and then it all just sort of clicked. I had friends who worked in the fast food industry which were easy to access, it went along with your theme, plus I could use it for other assignments. It all went hand in hand.
Since we published your photos, you mentioned that you’ve used and expanded on the series for a number of your classes. What attracts you so much to the idea that leeds you to keep on using it?
Around the time it started I was in my third term, so I was still trying to figure out my style. I realized that I really enjoyed shooting the graphic elements of the stores, the almost sad portraits of the people, and that those two things went together really well. I kept doing it because every time I shot a new portrait of a person it was always really exciting. Like “Oh my god it fits with this, it fits with that...” The photographs worked so well together, I always had the idea that they could work well together in a book.
Do you think that you could be projecting your own view of the fast food industry in these photos, or do you try and be objective?
There’s a lot of me in there...I don’t really do interviews with people when I shoot them. I never really worked in fast food, but I worked in a grocery store. You were surrounded by the worst customers and you hated it. I had friends who worked across the street at the McDonalds and we would get together and talk about how horrible our customers were . Anyone you talk to about it is like “Oh yeah, fast food is the worst job you can work.” So when I’m taking the photo I’m not really putting too much of them in it, it’s more about me and what people already assume about working in fast food.
Have you thought about doing interviews with people to include with them, or do you want the photos to just speak for themselves?
I’ve talked to teachers that said that if there were interviews to go along with the photos they would probably elevate the point I’m trying to get across, but I feel like I want to keep it as simple as possible. There’s a quote from one of my teachers inside the book that says “It’s just as bland as the food.” The photographs are boring, the people look bored, the food is generic, I really wanna emphasize how boring the whole experience is. Funnily, people tell me, “well thats a bad way to market yourself, as some boring guy who shoots boring photographs,” but that’s just what makes the most sense to me right now. It’s almost like I’m trying to approach the subject with the same level of mediocrity that is put into the food.
I noticed that you never have the signage of the places, like the Taco Bell photograph for example.
Yeah I want to keep it as anonymous as possible. One, because it’s fun for the viewer to think “Is it this place or is it that place?” and two, because I’m not sure how legal it is to use the stores logos. I’m sure In-n-Out wouldn’t be too happy about me photographing one of their employees smoking by the dumpster. Keeping it anonymous makes it more about the whole fast food experience instead of individual places. I look at them all the same, I don’t think one is better than the other.
This is a side note, but have you thought of shooting at a Chick-fil-A? They’re pretty controversial but everything is just so well designed.
It doesn’t really fit with what I’m shooting right now...they’re just too nice. I remember one of the first times we went into a Chick-fil-A I was so weirded out by how everyone was so nice because it felt really fake. Which is also an interesting thing in itself...but it doesn’t fit with the people I’m meeting in the fast food places because you can visibly see how stressed or annoyed they are. They don’t really put on an act for you like they do in Chick-fil-A.
That’s what I think is so nice about the contradictory title, “Have a Nice Day.” These fast food workers don’t really put on an act, but they have this script of nice things to say that don’t go with their attitude. It’s all on autopilot and we’re so used to hearing them we just accept it.
I like playing with that, I think its really funny when its a really bright and graphic restaurant and the person inside is really sad. I like that contrast of high and low. You caught it right away in the photo of the kid with the Caltech poster. It’s a little obvious sometimes, but thats what I’m looking for when I go to these places. Things that contrast each other.
Where can you see the project evolving to? Is it done, is it going somewhere...
No, I don’t want it to be done. Every time I show my teachers they tell me I have to keep shooting for it, and theres so many more people I want to reach out to. I think I have only five portraits in the book right now, and three of them are of people I already knew. So I’ve only made the effort to meet two strangers so far. The project is kind of coinciding with all these protests on the minimum wage which makes me feel like its perfect timing. People are realizing how shitty the work is and they want to be appreciated more, which is what I want to show. Besides how unhappy these people are, I want to show how they’re unappreciated and give them a chance to be excited. I understand what they’re going through and I hope it makes their day a little better.
What have been your inspirations while shooting the project?
Stephen Shore was one of the first people to bring color photography to the art world. He did a whole series traveling across America and documenting the hotels he would stay in, the bad diner food he would eat, the weird people he would encounter on the street...he was documenting the American landscape through an everyday, straightforward perspective. He wasn’t trying to glamorize it at all, so he was a big inspiration for this. He really emphasizes how important things outside the frame are. You could be taking a photograph of a beautiful landscape, but if you move the camera 10ft back now you see the guard rail on the side of road and it completely changes the photographs message. That’s something that I really take into consideration when approaching this project. There are so many different narratives inside of a fast food restaurant but I’m really trying to focus in on one specific part of it. Another photographer I look up to is Alec Soth who follows in the same footsteps as Stephen Shore.
You met Alec Soth recently, right?
Yeah that was really awesome. He’s has been one of my biggest inspirations since I’ve started shooting. He’s also really into ping pong, and I’m really into ping pong, so when I met him I had a paddle with me that I had him sign. At the time I had "Have A Nice Day" with me in my bag but I was too scared to have him look at it. I immediately regretted not showing him after I walked away.
What’s something no one ever asks you about the project that you wish they would?
People always ask, “What do you say to them? How do you get their photo?” I guess they kind of assume I’m super outgoing and can just ask these people really easily for their portrait. I sat in a restaurant for over an hour once, ate this giant burger that I didn’t like, just because I couldn’t get the courage to ask the people working there for a photograph. After being there for so long I had to just do it or leave. I got a portrait that wasn’t good, but at least I got the courage to speak up. I’m the worst person to be photographing people because I’m so shy, but for some reason thats what I like to do.
So do you think that it's helping you get out of that comfort zone?
Kind of, like I said I haven’t photographed enough strangers to where I’m completely over it. But I know that if I want to have a really good photograph I have to get out of my comfort zone and speak to people, so I think in the long run it’ll help me.