Munich, 1995
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Worldwide Waitresses

Beverly Stephen - January/February 2014

James Salzano is an accidental photographer of waitresses. Some 20 years ago, he was on assignment in Cincinnati when he went into a local diner called Hathaway. “It’s the kind of meeting place where everybody from the janitor to the mayor hangs out,” he says. He had all his photographic equipment with him, and a cheeky waitress named June asked him, “What the hell is that?” He explained he was in town to photograph executives, and she challenged him: “Ever take pictures of waitresses? We’re important people.” So he took her picture. And that was the beginning. As Salzano traveled around the world on assignment, he took pictures of waitresses wherever he went, from Australia to Atlanta, from Paris to Prague.

“It’s a wonderful subculture,” he says. “They’re important people. June was right. Especially if this is their career, this is what they love to do. Some have been at a restaurant for 30 years. They have their regular customers. They become part of the business.”

Also, Salzano notes, “They’re part of the community, and they reflect their community.” But each portrait creates its own sense of time and place. Gazing at the photos, a viewer knows he’s looking into New Orleans. Or Munich. Or Memphis.

So taken with the photos was chef/restaurateur Marco Moreira, that he bought 48 Waitresses images to decorate the walls of his new restaurant, The Fourth, in New York City.

See more images from The Waitress Project.