Cooking While Italian is the latest personal project from London-based photographer Alexander Coggin. As over-saturated – both in colour and character – as you’d expect, it draws on memories of his Philadelphia-based Italian family, replicating his grandmother’s cooking style with satire and fondness.
The series came about when “legitimately famous food stylist” Iain Graham reached out to Alexander to see if he wanted to collaborate. The two met and Alexander mentioned that, being from an Italian family on his mother’s side, he grew up with some women who did Italian “really really well.” “My great grandmother, who was born in Italy, was especially great,” he explains, “her hands were always busy with some food, although she didn’t wear quite as much jewellery as we depicted.” After speaking to a few friends with similar upbringings and laughing about how “most Italian-American east coast women wouldn’t take their jewellery off for anything. Not for dishwashing, not for making meatballs, not for gardening, nothing,” the idea to recreate this world was borne.
Alexander and Iain worked with nail artist Kate Cutler and set designer Emma Witter to bring to life Alexander’s memories. “I wanted it to be a heightened-reality but definitely based in truthfulness,” he adds, explaining how Iain “was really game for that”. In fact, “when [Alexander] mentioned a sheet cake with American and Italian flags,” Iain didn’t bat an eyelid.
Although clearly hyperreal, when producing the series, Alexander drew on the time his family moved back to Philadelphia from North Carolina and lived with his grandmother and great grandmother. “Everything in that house revolved around food and mealtime and sitting down together. The house smelled amazing because she was constantly cooking. There were always leftovers. She used to say that if there weren’t leftovers then you didn’t make enough. So it’s directly inspired by that time, for sure,” Alexander tells It’s Nice That.
While grounded in these specific family members, the shoot’s characters are more of a conglomeration of many people Alexander grew up around: “smokers, chefs, aunts and divas”. They pull together his, and his friends’ memories, balancing humour and endearment perfect.
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