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Donuts Just One Of Sittler Schrock’s Specialties

Published: May 16, 2011

A photographer came knocking at the doors of 60 independent Long Beach donut shops in 2007 when Rebecca Sittler Schrock joined CSULB’s Department of Art.

An expert in color photography with an interest in the cultural impact of food, Schrock features on her website images of specialty donuts and their receipts from all over Long Beach. Red glazed frosting glitters like a crown jewel from Long Beach’s Royal Donuts while trailing its receipt like an aristocrat’s cape. A chocolate concoction sprinkled with candy topping from the Donut Star resembles a new galaxy captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, but its handwritten proof of purchase brings it back to Earth.

Schrock states, “As an adult, I don’t see these donuts as consumable as I once did but I still see them as visual objects that are rich sites for exploring visual representation and culture. A photograph has to be seen as a specific representation of the subject, not simply as the subject itself.”

When she moved to Long Beach in 2007, she tested her expectations about food cultures in her new home. “I began researching every independently owned donut shop within the city limits of Long Beach. I visited each one, learning the layout of my new hometown in the process. At each shop, I purchased one plain donut and one specialty,” she said. Schrock brought home these donuts and make high-resolution images of them on a flatbed scanner. Brightly colored and sometimes garish, each was beautiful in its own way. She also became interested in the receipts she gathered from each donut shop. “I became fascinated by their variety,” she explained. “They were handwritten a lot of the time. As I looked more closely, I began to consider them as significant visual objects.”

Another related series from her website is the project “The Weight of Non-Franchise Meat” featuring a series of color photographs documenting an imaginary “burger war” between Long Beach independent restaurants that exist in the shadows of larger franchise establishments. The project borrows its structure from Robert Cumming’s 1971 work “The Weight of Franchise Meat” in which Cumming traveled from franchise to franchise, weighing meat patties and documenting the results in black and white for a limited edition artist’s book. Cumming’s approach was part of a larger community of artists examining photography’s slippery connections to scientific measurement, artistic activity and consumer culture. In “The Weight of Non-Franchise Meat,” Schrock’s camera amplifies aesthetic details and establishes a heightened sense of visual attention. Punctuated by the use of natural light and lush color, her images reinvest conceptual references with painterly aesthetics.

While making this work, Schrock spoke with the families who staffed the restaurants. “The business owners offered a variety of responses to my project,” she said. “Some were warm, others were guarded and many were curious but busy. Overall, the public reputation of an independently owned business was very important to them. But for the most part, they were accommodating. Since my father was a small business owner when I was a child, I understood the owners’ guarded responses.”

About the reception of her work, Schrock says, “My viewers often talk about restaurants they’ve been to. Donuts and hamburgers are nostalgic comfort foods, often recalling personal memories and narratives. They are also iconic. Independently owned restaurants are connected to regional identities and often establish a sense of place. Many people want to talk about the loss of small businesses within a landscape increasingly dominated by franchise restaurants. When I show these photographs outside of Long Beach, there is a different reaction. People initially respond to the abundance, and even over-abundance, of junk food. They place that in the context of southern California and it is not what they expected.”

Rebecca Sittler Schrock
Rebecca Sittler Schrock

Schrock’s previous work was driven by “contrasts between insignificance and monumentality, humor and seriousness, surface and depth, the timeless and the timely.” Engaged with dialogues in still-life photography, an earlier photograph transforms a stack of donuts through a visual combination of palette, texture and elegant compositional elements. Schrock said, “I work at home in a quiet communication with objects, domestic spaces and light. As the light changes, I alter the objects physically, change their spatial relationships, or give them personalities within a suggested narrative. I construct images intuitively in order to cultivate shifting metaphors and associations through a process similar to automatic writing. I often invest objects with narrative potential, suggest complexities of interpersonal relationships or pose questions concerning the nature of photography.”

Donut views

Schrock received her MFA in photography from Massachusetts College of Art and Design and has exhibited her work internationally. In 2009, she took part in the Summer Salon of Emerging Photographers at Daniel Cooney Fine Art Gallery in New York. She also has shown her work at the Torrance Museum of Art in 2008, in the 2007 Pingyao Photography Festival in China and in the main exhibition at the 2009 Ulsan Photography Festival in South Korea. Other venues include the Tampa Museum of Art and Sherman Gallery in Boston, both in 2006. She was an Artist-in Residence at the Orlando Museum of Art in 2005 and at Hot Springs National Park in 2007.

Before arriving at CSULB, Schrock taught courses at University of Central Florida in Orlando, Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland, and Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. A former fellow of the Photography Institute/National Graduate Seminar, Schrock has received a number of state and university sponsored research grants. She will be show her new work this summer in a two-person exhibition at Sam Lee Gallery in Los Angeles.