Nancy A. Scherl: Dining Alone: In the Company of Solitude
There is an air of mystery around someone dining alone. Are they waiting for someone? Are they lonely? Or are they savoring their meal in the company of their thoughts? “When we dine alone in public, we are observers, and we are observed”, photographer Nancy A. Scherl writes, in her monograph Dining Alone: In the Company of Solitude. Her long-term project photographing lone diners is a nuanced look at aloneness within the communal spaces of restaurants. In cinematic images that span three decades, from 1985 through the COVID 19 pandemic, she portrays not only what restaurants look like, but how we act in them when we are alone, and what has changed. Combining a pictorial and documentary approach, the book reveals the complexities of solitude.
Dining Alone is divided into two thematic sections: Universal and Timeless, photographs from 1985-2018, and Universal and Timely, images from the pandemic, when our perspective on the solitary experience was radically altered. Essays include the artist’s personal reflections and an introduction by Laura Wzorek Pressley that bring considerations to stigmas, trends, and human drives that shape our views. Through 74 color plates, Scherl presents her subjects as self-contained, enigmatic, self-possessed. Restaurant structures act as barriers—booths, tables, windows, plexi—that seem to protect the inner worlds of the people she photographs. Over the long arc of her project, books then phones and laptops shield diners as they retreat into their private worlds. Her images position us as outside observers, allowing us to fill in the mysteries and reflect on finding ourselves alone.
Available through Daylight Books , Dining Alone: In the Company of Solitude, is a hardcover, bound in mauve linen with purple endpapers, suggesting quietude and interiority—Scherl’s bookends for solitude.
Dining Alone: In the Company of Solitude
Dining Alone: In the Company of Solitude highlights the experience of being alone in public. I chose to photograph lone diners, in peopled restaurant interiors as a metaphor to explore the complexities of the subject of solitude. The subtle nuances of my lone diners visually define their experience. Though this work is staged, my subjects were asked to act out how they felt when they dine alone. Dining Alone is a long-term project spanning three (plus) decades, culminating in 2020 with photographs taken during the COVID-19 pandemic when restaurants moved their diners to makeshift structures outdoors to avoid contagion. The humanistic photographs shine a light on the existential and complex aspects of dining alone which have been thrown into sharp relief by COVID-19.
In her foreword Laura Pressley writes: “The images unfold in a cinema verité style, so the camera is used to unveil truths in a documentary approach.” Despite the isolation we had all experienced, we were all connected by the realization that the deadly virus did not discriminate, nor do the fragilities of life. We are all bound by our humanness, our mortality, our vulnerabilities. My hope is that our experiences of dining alone during the pandemic, will serve as an encouraging reminder that we found a way to come to terms with our aloneness again.
Nancy A. Scherl is a fine art portrait photographer based in New York City. In this series, she used cinematic lighting and staged her subjects asking them to act out how they feel or behave when they dine alone in public. Scherl completed an MFA in Photography, Video and Related Media at New York City’s School of Visual Arts, following her undergraduate studies in documentary and fine art photography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a member of the American Society of Media Photographers, where she served as a board member from 2016 to 2019, and currently serves as President emerita and Treasurer, on the board of the Katonah Museum Artists’ Association (KMAA) in Katonah, New York. She is the Founder, and Producer of SHOP-TALK which is a round table discussion series about art, produced for the KMAA.
Scherl is the recipient of many awards and has exhibited globally including at FotoNostrum Mediterranean House of Photography, PX3 Espace Beaurepaire, A Smith Gallery, Praxis Gallery, South X Southeast, The Katonah Museum of Art, The Hammond Museum and the Griffin Museum of Photography.
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