Fruit of Your Labor

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Fruit of Your Labor

Kelly Lenza

“What kinds of different labor are there?”

Interview by L. Valena

 Can you first please describe what you responded to?

I received an illustration that was a woman who might be Chiquita banana with four arms, and holding kind of a Catholic-looking bleeding heart, like a saint might. And then the figure was surrounded by repetitive citrus fruit, not really abstract, just repetitive.

What was your first response to that?

First I had to figure out who I felt the figure was, because I wanted to make sure it wasn't a deity that I wasn't familiar with. But then I decided that it must be about migrant food workers, or agricultural workers, and presenting the message that these folks that grow, pick and produce all the food that we eat, they're saints for doing it. They're not receiving anything in return.

Yeah, the food system is pretty screwed up.


Ok, so what happened next?

I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to use real citrus rather than fake. Weirdly enough, I was looking at fake fruit, because immediately I knew that I wanted there to be a massive amount of citrus fruit, just to kind of match the theme. I was looking at fake fruit, and then decided to just go to Costco and buy a bunch. And it's still on my counter.

I bet it looks beautiful.

It does look nice. It's fun. But also, I did a little bit of googling to see if there was maybe a local migrant worker advocacy group that I might be able to work through or with to maybe connect directly with folks and do some portraits of them with fruit. I had some neat ideas comparing and contrasting people in a grocery store next to citrus fruit. I starting thinking about the term 'fruits of your labor', and that kind of got struck in my head. Maybe this doesn't have to be necessarily migrant labor, but just labor in general. What kinds of different labor are there? And because I have two young children, I'm surrounded by a lot of parents, what if I took a portrait of parents with a new baby and surrounded them with fruit? I kind of had flashes of different professions- scattering fruit near them and taking their photo. But I ended up doing a model call on the local intersectional queer exchange group, and found the person who is the model in my submission. This person said they were a sex worker, and that most of the labor that performed was taking care of fragile men! So I went to their apartment, and we shot some photos with the fruit. Then afterwards we went to breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s, which is a restaurant that supposedly Route 66 starts at. They ended up telling me a lot about the kind of sexism and racism they experience, even though in general they really like the line of work they're in. If felt important to me to take a picture of them, after they had shared so much detail about the actual kind of labor that they were performing in society and with their clients.

After you had this conversation with this person, and heard about their life and took these pictures, tell me about your thought process of putting them together in the way that you did.

I had the main photo, that is the main part of the image. It had the repetitive citrus that I wanted, to mirror the illustration. Then I took another photo of them peeling an orange, because I wanted to mimic the kind of imagery of the bleeding heart, and then it felt really meaningful to take that picture after they had shared so much about themselves, because we had made more of a connection.

There's a lot of vulnerability and exposure here, and it's a very elegant way of expressing that- peeling an orange.

Yeah. And I really wanted to not only combine the images that felt the most powerful both off camera, but also try to arrange them in a way that felt right. Obviously, some of it is just artistic composition intuition. Looking at some other works in this project, like Silk Floss Tree, gave me permission to play with superimposing the images and stuff. That's not normally something I do at all, and it was really helpful to look at the other series and what other people are doing, and giving myself permission to play. To produce an image that was a composite that felt like it was delivering the right message.

That's so cool! So you were looking at other switches and kind of responding to them as well!

It's a metaswitch.

The colors in this piece are killing me- the flowers, the model's hair. What else do you have to say about this process or this piece that you made?

I'm really excited to see if someone responds to it, and what they do. I've showed it to a couple of my friends, and asked them what they think it is about, semi-replicating the process of Bait/Switch. I'm excited to see the whole series.

Do you have any advice for someone else doing this project?

I guess my advice would be to look at the other series and also to give yourself permission to try things you haven't done yet. The whole process really is something I have never done before. I've never done a model call that was like that- it was really just a whole experience.

That's great- that's the best we can hope for, that this gave you a reason to stretch yourself in some new ways. That's awesome.

I thought originally that I would make food, and I might still because I have a ton of citrus on the counter. Is there a possibility if I manage to do something cohesive- can I provide a second switch?


[Editor’s note: Kelly did do a second response to this work! Check it out here.]

Call Number: C8VA | C11VA.leFru



Kelly Lenza is a portrait photographer and maker in Chicago, IL. They're often found posting selfies, fat advocacy, photography, and food they made on their Instagram profile, @LividLipids. You can find their portrait work at