The Story


These photographs are the result of a class assignment: go out and take pictures of ordinary people engaged in an ordinary activity. The year was 1973, the school in question was the Art Institute of Boston and my choice of subject (grocery shoppers) led me to the produce section since it was the only place in my local supermarket with sufficient natural light for my purpose. As the produce section also happens to be the area in which shoppers inspect, touch, sniff and weigh their selections, my images happened to capture that fleeting yet essential pause for assessment, a moment in time in which the subjects of my photographs were making decisions of which they were hardly aware.

Happily, the store manager gave me permission to take pictures of strangers in his store; a situation impossible to imagine today. Curiously, no one inquired as to who I was or why I was photographing them. Those facts alone would date the images in terms of our relationships with one another even were it not for the dresses, suits, hats, seamed stockings and cigarettes. Looking at these photographs today is to walk backward through a museum of the mind.

These images were initially exhibited in 2010 at the Hamill Gallery in Boston. On that occasion, the notion of using the images on shopping bags came up, but time was an issue and the idea was shelved. Fast forward five years to a moment in a new Whole Foods market when easy-listening tunes of the 1970s brought the image of my images to my mind and this time, with time to follow up on the recycled shopping bag idea. 

I hope you'll like the images and the use to which they've been put.  What better companion on a trip to the supermarket than one of these nicely dressed shopping ghosts from more than forty years ago?

- Susan Burbidge 2016

  The aspiring photographer in 1973

The aspiring photographer in 1973


We go to the supermarket because we've used up or run out of whatever we got the last time we were there. If shopping is repetition compelled by consumption, shopping for produce is an exercise in pure ephemerality; carry away enough broccoli or pineapple to last a month and most of it will spoil within a week. So we amble the aisles, replacing the impermanent.

Yet curiously, impermanence has no place in these photographs. The shoppers are garbed in formality and their most mundane gestures have been transformed by a sort of classical restraint into a ceremony of selection and rejection. Wrapped in dark coats and wearing polished shoes, these ladies (and the occasional gentleman) appear to be participants in a somber ritual, thoughtfully calculating quantities or deliberating upon the matter of ripeness. This is the magic of the camera lens, summoning from the least memorable moments of our daily lives the rhythm and the refinement of eternity.

- Bobbi Hamill, Hamill Gallery, 2010



Susan Burbidge has been considering the world through various viewfinders since she was a teenager. These bags consist of photographs taken (with the permission of the manager) at the Purity Supreme store in Newton Highlands, Massachusetts in 1973. The images were made using a Nikkormat FT camera and TriX 400 film. 

A special thank you to Bobbi Hamill at for inspiration and Frame It at for graphics and logo design.