Artist statement

The dishwasher project is an intimate portrayal and tribute to the men and women behind the illustrious Portland food scene. The paintings seek to honor the individual, their lives in the back of the house, and humanize the grueling work of keeping the restaurant service moving. The photographs are documentary, providing a real view of the life and environment from the back of the house.

We interviewed each dishwasher with the same 19 questions–in some cases with the help of a translator. The answers played a major role in the completion of each painting. In some cases, they changed the course of the work.

Our hope for this project is to plant a question in the minds of patrons of these restaurants with rock-star-status chefs who, truly, are only as good as their team. We took the most unsavory of these positions, the individuals who see the aftermath of a meal and live in the steam, soap and waste of an otherwise glorious experience. We hope to give a face and history to the hands that hold our dishes. We are humbled to have their stories to share, and hope that the next time you spend a Sunday afternoon indulging in a five-star brunch, you’ll consider the people for which there is no James Beard Award, but should garner your esteem.

Meet the people who wash your dishes.

We wish to thank Radio Room, Helser’s, Veritable Quandary, Mother’s Bistro, Sisters of the Road, Por Que No, Papa Haydn and Clyde Common for believing in this project and supporting our work and their staff.

Natalie Sept began this project in 2010 during her time at Papa Haydn restaurant where she was a pastry tech, and began to take notice of the dishwashers who often times where coming from another job and leaving to the next after their time washing dishes. Israel Bayer joined Natalie in 2012 and began taking photographs for the project.


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