For its latest campaign, Our Place, a mission-driven kitchen and cookware brand based in Los Angeles, handed over the reigns to creative director Sarah Kissell and photographer Ronan McKenzie. In line with Our Place’s ethos, which emphasises the unifying potential of home-cooking, Sarah and Ronan celebrated the power of communal meals through a series of tender photographs of designer Akua Shabaka and her family cooking and eating together.
“The idea behind the shoot was to showcase the company mission by highlighting the Shabaka family and supporting cast from South Los Angeles who are bringing change to their community through food,” Sarah says. “We wanted to capture imagery that felt as if you were sitting at the table with the family home video style – raw, authentic, candid, and nostalgic – similar to how your family dinners may have been documented growing up.” Shot in the Shabaka family home, Ronan’s photographs are an ode to familial bonds. By capturing the family laughing, talking and sitting together, Sarah and Ronan’s Our Place series offers an honest representation of the nurturing and nourishing potential of a family meal.
“Akua, her mum Rebecca, and their family welcomed us into their home with open arms,” Ronan tells It’s Nice That. “They were gracious and elegant while being extremely down to earth and quick to smile – just lovely, wonderful people, which is really all I can ever hope for when I’m meeting someone for the first time and photographing them in the same day. We chatted a little before we started shooting to create a sense of familiarity, but the Shabaka family have such a beautiful connection that it would be hard not to capture their warmth in a photo.” Ronan started off by photographing the outdoor images, while Wose and Wolley got the food ready in the kitchen.
For Ronan, the most moving aspect of the shoot was the affection with which she was met. Before she took photographs of the Shabaka family inside their home, she was welcomed to the table and asked to eat with them. “The whole team and crew sat down to eat the same food that we later photographed the Shabakas enjoying,” Ronan says. “Wose catered for us all, he made incredible vegan patties, stew, soup and salads to nourish us, so we also really felt like part of their family. I think being welcomed in this way and sharing food created an atmosphere that hardly felt like a shoot. It was as if I was photographing my own family or close friends at home getting ready for a meal, and I think that’s why there is so much heart in the images.” It is this sincerity, this openhearted hospitality, that Ronan so honestly and so accurately reflects in her photographs.
The film, which accompanies the Our Place campaign images, builds on the storytelling quality of the photographs. While Ronan’s pictures vividly present viewers with the kinship and kindness of the Shabaka family, the video adds an additional layer to the narrative, bringing to life the family’s loving dynamics and culinary customs. “It’s difficult for me to objectively see my work, but I think although the images are warm and easy to understand, the film is relatable to another level,” Ronan says. “You see Wose tasting the food, Akua shaking her head as you do when one of your siblings says something silly at the table, and the messy table after you’ve spent a while plating and making the food look delicious only for it to be destroyed afterwards. Those are the moments that make this piece so special.”