Author Micah Cash spent most of 2018 traveling through the southeastern United States visiting and photographing Waffle House restaurants, a project that culminated in the book "Waffle House Vistas" published by The Bitter Southerner. Cash explains:
I did it because I wanted to see through each restaurant's windows. I wanted to see the surrounding architecture, catalog adjacent businesses, and understand the public and commercial space around each restaurant. I also wanted to ask questions about our society and our social, economic, and political divisions.
The resulting photography project, "Waffle House Vistas," collects images that document Southern communities as seen through the windows of Waffle Houses. In each instance, the point of view is the customer's. Each photograph looks out from booths and chairs, making the viewer a witness to intertwined narratives of poverty, transience, and politics.
These photographs ask viewers to look up from their hash browns and acknowledge the institutions and structures that create real, yet rarely acknowledged boundaries that feel impossible to break through for much of this country. And Waffle House is the perfect place to have this conversation — beloved as a Southern cultural icon and scattered throughout our region like hash browns on a grill. But while the Waffle House feels like a "safe space" for such discussions, it has not, it is not without its own controversies.
In fact, Waffle House restaurants have become somewhat notorious for violent, racially-charged incidents. Cash cites three that occurred in Spring 2018 alone. In a more recent article, Brian Kean writes that if you Google "shootings at Waffle House," you'll be "shocked." Kean attempts to explain why Waffle House "is so deadly" and posits that it boils down to the "unpredictability of a late-night crowd, the likelihood that there are guns, and racism."
Micah Cash, then, couldn't ignore the sociopolitical and cultural contexts within which Waffle House restaurants exist. Cash explains:
I also began "Waffle House Vistas" against the backdrop of challenging political times: the trauma of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the activism that followed; the rhetoric of the 2018 midterm elections and their consequences; the threat and eventual occurrence of a government shutdown over the holidays. While I did not want the tonality of these photographs altered by those events, in truth, they were.
There was no way around it. These photographs contemplate our volatile political and economic climate and do so explicitly from the vantage point of Waffle House restaurants. My approach had its own rules: I would eat at every Waffle House I entered and make images only from where I was seated. I wanted to have a complete Waffle House experience every time. Not only did it give the photographs the authenticity I wanted, but it also compensated the restaurant for taking up a table, especially during prime dining hours. I ordered a full breakfast at the first restaurant of the day and would order coffee and a side of toast at the remaining stores, as it was customary for me to visit multiple locations in one day while I was traveling.
Waffle House Vistas was published in 2019 by The Bitter Southerner, and a second edition was recently released. According to The Bitter Southerner:
This new edition has an awesome new cover. Inside, there are new locations, new essays, and new vistas. If you loved our original Waffle House Vistas, we know you're going to double love Waffle House Vistas, second edition.
The new edition includes 40 new photographs that were made between 2020-2022. The book also includes essays by Beth McKibben, Mike Jordan, Laura Bullard, Maurice Carlos Ruffin, and Micah Cash.