Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

Photographer Nolan Conway traveled across 22 states in 2 months to see just exactly who eats at McDonald’s.

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

McDonald’s customers are the subject of Conway’s expansive photo essay, which consists of 180 portraits or so.

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

The intimate photos depict groups of friends, families, and loners gazing pensively at Conway’s lens from restaurant booths.

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

Conway’s subjects were selected on the basis of their general appearance, like their gait, temperament, or eating manners.

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

It wasn’t always easy to find the right diner. “There were good days when I came across many subjects, and would only visit a few…"

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

"…Then there were bad days when I was desperate for subjects, and would visit more than 20 [restaurants].”

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

The photographer somewhat stumbled onto his quest. He was traveling on a photo assignment, when he stopped at an Idaho McDonald’s to use their wifi. Here, he’d come across two characters that would spark his interest in the subject.

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

The first was an older man with a gun strapped to his west, cowboy style. The other, a young girl who ambled into the restaurant covered head-to-toe in a blanket.

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

Conway says he wanted to understand these people, and his photos were a way to doing that.

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

“So many of the people in these photos are unique and unusual--and frequently in ways that might be construed negatively by sophisticated urban audiences,” he says.

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

“But these people are not ashamed of who they are.” And why would they be?

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

“But these people are not ashamed of who they are.” And why would they be?

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

“But these people are not ashamed of who they are.” And why would they be?

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

“But these people are not ashamed of who they are.” And why would they be?

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

“But these people are not ashamed of who they are.” And why would they be?

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

“But these people are not ashamed of who they are.” And why would they be?

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

“But these people are not ashamed of who they are.” And why would they be?

Portraits of McDonald's Patrons

“But these people are not ashamed of who they are.” And why would they be?

Co.Design

These Are Some Of The 68 Million People McDonald's Serves Every Day

A photographer found himself people watching at McDonald’s and came away with a Supersize photo essay.

Americans on average consume nearly 30 pounds of French fries a year. Fried spuds don’t make a meal on their own: We also eat about three hamburgers a week, averaging 156 burgers per person a year (that’s more than 48 billion meaty hockey pucks). And many Americans they get their fast-food fix—about 1 billion pounds of beef and 3.4 billion potatoes—at, you guessed it, McDonald’s.

McDonald’s remains a cultural institution, but it’s also increasingly the target of our collective frustration with all sorts of things. Any mention of the Golden Arches on major media outlets or in well-meaning documentaries is followed by spools of data linking Big Macs to rising obesity levels and greenhouse gases, among other damaging effects. As photographer Nolan Conway puts it, "McDonald’s makes itself a pretty easy target for attacks from the media and from artists."

Late last year, Conway set on a new kind of American odyssey. He traveled thousands of miles to document the human face of our fast-food addiction. The resulting series of photos—180 portraits of McDonald’s patrons—cast the food chain in a curious new light.

"I made a point to go to McDonald’s as often as possible," Conway tells Co. Design. He visited 250-400 restaurants (he lost count) in the two months that he worked on the photo essay. Not every location, of course, was flush with interesting subjects. "There were good days when I came across many subjects and would only visit a few. Then there were bad days when I was desperate for subjects and would visit more than 20."

Conway literally stumbled onto the project while on a road trip pursuing a photo assignment. One night, he stopped over at a McDonald’s in Nampa, Idaho, (for the Wi-Fi, not the burgers) when, the photographer says, "a gentleman walked in with an open carry pistol strapped to his belt." Initially intrigued, he then decided to leave when a young girl traipsed in wrapped in a blanket. The moment was defining. Conway began pulling off at every highway Mickey D’s he came across to scan for photogenic diners—a search that eventually spanned 22 states. Needless to say, "By the end of that trip, I’d nearly forgotten about my other project."

The portraits encompass nearly every demographic. There are youthful groups of friends crammed into a booth, aging couples who haven’t lost the romance, families huddled around a mountain of fries, and inveterate loners enjoying their Value Meals in peace.

Rather than villainize the McDonald’s corporation or fault customers for failing to exercise more discriminating modes of consumption, Conway says he wanted to understand the customers. "So many of the people in these photos are unique and unusual—and frequently in ways that might be construed negatively by sophisticated urban audiences," he says. "But these people are not ashamed of who they are."

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