Dona Schwartz

In The Kitchen

Dona Schwartz

The kitchen is the hub of my family’s life. It’s the place where we seek physical and emotional sustenance. It’s the place where we congregate to touch base, negotiate, and strategize. It’s the place where we welcome in close friends and recent acquaintances, introducing them to our daily rituals. It’s the place where we make a mess of things and do our best to clean it all up. We pass on ideals, skills, and traditions in the kitchen.

I began regularly photographing my kitchen in February of 2003. In doing so, I’ve discovered a range of activities, interactions, and emotions that provide me with a wellspring for reflecting on the meanings of family, interconnection and individuation. Seen over an extended period of time, the kitchen offers a view of life’s continuities and changes. Carefully viewed, it can render events that transfer behaviors and values from one generation to the next; it provides a microcosmic glimpse of the dynamics of family.

When I sold my house in August 2003 it moved the project in a new direction. My children and I now inhabit a new kitchen, and we’ve expanded from a single-parent family comprised by me, my sons, Daniel, who is now 23, and Eric, 18, and my daughter, Lara, 12, to a two-parent, blended family of eight, including my partner Ken, and his three children, Justin, 22, Hillary, 19, and Chelsea, 16. Since the move I have photographed the complicated process of merging two distinct families. In the new kitchen alliances and tensions emerge and disappear, new routines get established, old and new friends arrive and depart. Despite change, this remains constant: the kitchen is still the hub of my family’s life. Within the limits of its well-defined domain I explore the unbounded complexity of family.


Dona Schwartz earned her PhD at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, and works as a photographic artist, scholar, and educator. Among her many academic publications are two photographic ethnographies, Waucoma Twilight: Generations of the Farm (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992) and Contesting the Super Bowl (Routledge, 1997). Her first photographic monograph, In the Kitchen, was published by Kehrer Verlag in 2009.

Her photographic work has been internationally published and exhibited, and is included in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Musée de lʼElysée, the George Eastman House, the Harry Ransom Center, the Portland Art Museum, the Kinsey Institute, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago. Dona was born in Philadelphia, PA and lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with Ken Waters, their blended brood of six children (now ranging in age from 17-28), and their two rambunctious bearded collies. She is on the faculty of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota.