Detroit photographer Michelle Gerard recreated the diets of well-known authors and artists. She tells SEEN what inspired her to create The Artist Diet series and crazy facts she learned along the way.
By Stephanie Steinberg
Photography by Michelle Gerard
Featured photo is Walt Whitman’s diet.
1. What inspired you to create The Artist Diet series?
I’ve always been more interested in the stories and the process behind art than the art itself. Several years ago, I was reading about David Lynch’s strict ritual of dining at Bob’s Big Boy at precisely 2:30 p.m. (the only time when the milkshake is just the right consistency) and how he would drink five, six, seven cups of coffee with lots and lots of sugar.
He described himself as “heavily into sugar,” and the sugar-caffeine combination fueled his creativity while he scribbled ideas on napkins. He credited so much of this ritual to his success. From there, I started researching other artists with rituals surrounding food.
2. Which ‘diet’ was your favorite to recreate?
The subtle details in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s diet were an interesting challenge. I had to find high-resolution scans of old canned meat and alter them to fit on modern-day canned meat products. His scene doesn’t have a lot of components, but I was happy with how it came together.
The details were important to me. All of the papers, notes, postcards are in the artist’s own handwriting. I sourced high-res images and reproduced them for the photos. The Skyland Hotel matches and postcard in Fitzgerald’s photo are real vintage items from the hotel from the ‘20s. “The Price of Salt” book in Patricia Highsmith’s photo was my most expensive prop at $300.
3. How did you choose which artists to feature?
I kept going back to the artists whose rituals were strong and played an important part in their work or told a strong story about what was going on in their life at that time. There are 12 more artists I would eventually like to portray.
4. Where did you shoot the photos?
All of these were shot in an unfinished basement. Each set was constructed to represent the artist’s setting as closely as possible.
5. Did you learn any fun or surprising facts about any of the artists while researching?
More than I can list here! Warhol was the most eccentric and referred to a chocolate bar between two pieces of white bread as “cake” and was once stopped at the airport for having an entire suitcase of candy.
6. If you photographed your diet, what would it look like?
Nothing too unusual here. If I’m busy working, it’s literally whatever is the quickest and most convenient — I don’t want to be distracted.
7. What are some of your favorite places to photograph food in Metro Detroit?
Marrow, Takoi and Rose’s Fine Food are some of my favorite new places to photograph. But I particularly love places that have been around forever and have done one thing for so long — whether it’s frying fish or making donuts — that it’s become deeply ingrained in the people that work there and the building they inhabit.
8. Where can fans purchase The Artist Diet photos?
Prints are available on my website at michelleandchrisgerard.com/shop.
Michelle Gerard is a commercial and editorial photographer in Detroit, with a focus on food and creating storytelling images. Her other personal projects include tracing her family’s history in Detroit, collecting photos of parking huts around the city and documenting lesser known subcultures.