Studies have repeatedly shown the benefits of having a set family meal time every day. Research has shown that the benefits are especially pronounced in children, who often show higher achievement scores and are generally more physically fit when they reguarly eat a daily meal with their families.
Bielefeld, who’s represented by Portrait Society Gallery, visited 78 households to see how families are sitting down for dinner every night. Focusing on weeknights, when people usually have less free time, she found that there were some major differences in how famillies spent the meal together.
As a child, Bielefeld was highly involved in her family meals. “I’ve always loved food,” she told Business Insider. “One of my chores growing up was to make a weekend meal for the family. I could make whatever I wanted, but I needed to follow a recipe.”
For “Weeknight Dinners,” Bielefeld wanted to explore people’s habits and nightly rituals.
“I love to see the similarities and differences in people with a topic that has commonality — we all eat,” she said.
She photographed this project specifically on Monday through Thursday nights. “I wanted to capture habits and rituals that are shaped by the weeknight time crunch rather than the weekends, when people have more time,” she said.
One thing that Bielefeld found out early on in the project was that people ate in many different places in their homes.
“The archetype or projected ideal associated with dinner is families eating at the table,” she said. “Everyone eats at the same time, and eats the same food. This was rarely the case during my portraits.”
From picnicking on the floor, to standing upright at the counter while reading the paper, she found no two households were alike.
About one in five of her subjects ate dinner in front of the television, which she noticed took up the children’s attention fully. “[When the TV was on] the focal point was definitely the TV as opposed to each other, but there was still this idea of being together and doing something collectively,” she said.
Another observation Bielefeld made was that in many households, different family members would eat different things. “It was a way to make mealtime peaceful with different tastes,” she said.
Luckily for Bielefeld, most people she approached about the project were open to the idea of participating.
“Often when I begin a new photo series, I reach out to people I know and sometimes whom I’ve photographed [before],” she said. “As a project progresses I start photographing strangers which I reach out to in a variety of ways.”
She’d set up lights in the home to help illuminate the scene, and ask the subjects to wait before eating so that she could take their picture.
“Often it was really difficult for the kids to fathom not being able to eat when the food was put before them,” she said. “Even with the whole camera and lights set up it was still almost beyond them that they had to wait to eat. It was quite humorous.”
Occasionally, her subjects would ask her to join for dinner after she was done shooting.
As a photographer, Bielefeld’s main focus is to keep exploring the human psyche. “As I keep photographing people, I learn that people are incredibly complex and there is a sea of differences and similarities between people and their behavior,” Bielefeld said. “I’m really interested in behavior and why people do what they do. But it’s never as simple as one cause or reason.”
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