I love ice-cream, you love ice-cream, she loves ice-cream, he loves ice-cream. Who doesn’t love ice-cream? That was the thought and inspiration behind the new series of photography from Greg Cohen, who set out to photograph 150 people enjoying their favourite flavour. I was much taken by the alive-ness of the images and how each one beautifully depicts a distinct personality to the subject.
We got to talk a little more to Greg on how these series came about, and he had some lovely stories to share:
I looked at the portfolio on your website, you’ve done really interesting and diverse work – how was the idea for A La Mode conceived, and please tell us more about the intent behind this particular series?
Thank you. A La Mode is super simple: Ice cream makes people happy. The project began because I adore ice cream and I wanted to photograph a love letter to it, for it and in its honor. Once I started shooting I realised how successfully it allows us to appreciate the moment. That’s the intent for the project; it’s sort of a friendly reminder to appreciate the moment.
Your images are so alive and riveting! Could you tell us about the process during each shoot, how did you find your subjects, were they posed, or quite candid, etc?
Thank you, I’m glad they affect you viscerally. They continue to do so for me too. Initially I reached out to my friends and their families, and eventually I posted it on a few different public forums. A huge range of people volunteered, which is exactly what I wanted. They responded to a post something like this…
I’m shooting a new series of portraits called A La Mode. Please be a part of it.
Here’s the deal…
- You tell me your favorite ice cream flavor.
- You eat it.
- I photograph you.
Pretty simple, right? I mean, it’s free ice cream.
Because the concept is simple, I wanted the images to be simple too… white tablecloth, white background; each shot is exactly the same, except for the person and their flavour. I allowed each person to sit casually, while we discussed his or her relationship with ice cream… their favorite flavour, why they love it, memories, pastimes, how it makes them feel, why it’s good for the world… The idea was to simply share a moment in time with each individual.
What has been the reaction to the photography so far?
Everyone gets it right away, there hasn’t needed to be a whole lot of explanation. They feel it and they’re excited by it. Some say it’s joyous, delicious, contagious… and nearly everyone asks to be a part of it.
You’ve basically taken portraits of 150 (or more!) people enjoying ice cream – could you share some of your favourite moments, and perhaps even a couple of stories behind some of the most interesting portraits/personalities?
A 103 year old woman shared a touching memory of her first scoop as a child, and soon after I witnessed an 18 month old boy try ice cream for the first time. Covered in vanilla with a huge smile on his face, it was magic. The whole process has been a lot of fun and very moving at the same time. A lot of people told me it makes them feel like a child again, which makes sense to me because most of the time children live in the moment. They’re usually not distracted by worry or regret.
One man told me his favorite flavour was strawberry because when he was a boy in the 30’s he lived on his grandparent’s strawberry farm, and they’d make the ice cream together. He got choked up as he was recalling the story.
A woman shared her first experience with ice cream at a drive-in movie where she went on her first date with her husband in 1958, when she was 14. The drive-in no longer exists, but she told me she can still taste the hot fudge sundae.
Tell us about the ice cream! Was it home made, from a particular store/brand, do you choose it for each subject/person or do they choose it themselves?
I wanted each person to enjoy their favorite flavour, (everyone deserves their favorite flavor!) so I had it waiting for them when they arrived. Occasionally it was a challenge to find certain requests – gluten or lactose free, vegan, kosher, special brands, etc, and some people brought their own. I bought a huge freezer and at any given time I had about 20 flavours of ice cream. To be clear, though, it was all pure ice cream, no sherbet or frozen yogurt or anything like that.
What’s next for you, and in particular, any more food related work coming up?
I’m working on a few projects that share the theme of Time, and what we choose to do with it. Subjects include dogs, autism, and people who have been married for more than 65 years.
Although A La Mode is a personal project, I deliberately shot it with a commercial look. I’ve had some interest to use it for commercial purposes, so I’m exploring those opportunities. Meanwhile I’m working on two more components to A La Mode… I’m editing a short video; and I’m shooting documentary stills about ice cream culture.
And finally – what’s your favourite flavour?
While I’ll eat just about any ice cream, anytime, anywhere, I tend to keep it pretty simple: Mint chocolate chip.
More specifically, it’s…a mountain of Mint chocolate chip ice cream, with a big hunk of all natural chunky peanut butter and a drizzle of chocolate syrup.That’s the choice concoction, if I’m home.
If I’m out, I’ll almost always get a milkshake of the mint chocolate chip variety. In any case, I think I always return to Mint Chocolate Chip because it takes me back to my summers as a kid which I’d spend with my grandmother at the beach in New Jersey.
A La Mode was largely inspired by “Little Grandma.” Her appetite for ice cream, her overall style, and her perspective on life. She once said to me, “The most important thing in life is laughter. Something to laugh about. Love is good too, but mostly laughter. She’s 94 years old, still lives in Jersey, and continues to eat more ice cream than anyone I know.