He photographed In-N-Out restaurants all over Orange County – here’s why

When Patrick Fraser immigrated to the United States from England, one of the first things he did after getting off the plane was something many see as the quintessential Southern California must-do activity.

He went to In-N-Out Burger.

Now, 16 years later, Fraser still remembers what he ate: a Double Double with grilled onions.

“I didn’t know about animal style back then,” he said.

For the group photography show at the Orange County Great Park’s Palm Court Arts Complex, the Venice-based professional photographer shot In-N-Out Burgers in every Orange County city where they’re found, from Westminster to Laguna Beach, from Laguna Niguel to Santa Ana. The show, “Smile: Expressions of Orange County,” opens Sunday and runs through Aug. 14.

The work is a detour from Fraser’s usual work.

You might have seen Fraser’s photos in Vanity Fair, Vogue, Rolling Stone or Esquire. He’s photographed Alicia Vikander, Meryl Streep and Brie Larsen for The Wrap. He’s taken pictures of Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lawrence and too many other celebrities to name.

When Kevin Staniec, who programs arts for the city of Irvine and the Great Park, asked Fraser to contribute to the exhibit, Fraser wanted to do something different than his celebrity work. Fraser lives in Venice Beach now but has family in Santa Ana and comes often to Orange County.

“I said ‘I’d like to shoot something new and fresh for it,’” Fraser said. “I want to be inspired by the area and Orange County.”

He remembered that first trip to In-N-Out Burger.

“That kind of seemed very symbolic of America and also this area and this California and this region,” he said. “So I thought maybe it’d be interesting to do every In-N-Out in Orange County.”

What emerges from Fraser’s 10 photos is the theme of variation within sameness.

“Some of them are very smart (Fraser is British, so he uses ‘smart’ to mean ‘sharp’). Like, the one in Irvine that’s just outside the big hall where there’s dance shows and ballets…. Or Seal Beach, which is, like, in the middle of an intersection. It’s a bit nondescript, so it shows the demographics, too.”

Fraser made something of a road trip to capture the In-N-Out Burgers, driving about 150 miles to find them all and capturing images at different times of day. The photos set a bit of a nostalgic mood. Fraser said he was going for the look of an old home movie, or a snapshot taken on a family road trip.

He used film, not a digital camera.

“(They are) slightly snap-shotty, so it had this kind of fast-food feel,” he said. “I wanted a motif to sort of paint a picture of Orange County.”

Shooting in different locations let him explore the region.

“It’s not to do with burgers so much. It’s more to do with location, and that’s such a California brand.”


The photo series is kind of a metaphor for how outsiders see Orange County. To them, it’s one homogenous region of 3 million, with some beaches, some strip malls, some pricey houses, but not much variety.

Local residents know all about the variety here, however. And that’s the idea behind “Smile.” Each of the county’s 34 cities, and even some unincorporated areas such as Coto de Caza, are represented by more than 40 photographers, some amateur and some professional.

Besides Fraser, other professionals have offered their own interpretations of the county. Mark Chamberlain, a Laguna Beach artist, has a photo of the grassy canyon area near Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, a place his activist art helped preserve. Nathan Vernes, originally from Westminster, photographed cars parked in driveways and on streets, offering another image of Orange County.

Seth Casteel, a Chapman University alum now famous for his portraits of dogs and their wild and enthusiastic expressions underwater, has a few images in the show.

He was photographing dogs to promote adoptions from local animal shelters and accepting commissions from dog owners to photograph their pets. One of those was a portrait of Buster, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel whose owner lived near Chapman University. Buster jumped in the backyard pool, and Casteel’s underwater dog photo series was born. Casteel’s photos went viral and a book deal followed.

“Orange County is so unique. Every city you go through, you’re almost time traveling,” Staniec said on a recent afternoon as the show was being installed.

“It’s more nuanced. Where an outsider might say ‘Orange County is just a blob of beach,’” added Megan Clarke, co-curator of the show. “Each beach has its own personality.”

The Photographic Society of Orange County, a group of professional photographers and hobbyists, has covered one wall with 40 photos of places all over the county, from a deli in Los Alamitos to farmland in Irvine to the Mission San Juan Capistrano. The photos are the result of a group project for the society, capturing Orange County on Labor Day in 2014.

Clarke said the idea is that people will see in “Smile” their own Orange County stories. Staniec certainly did with Fraser’s In-N-Out photos.

“The very first (In-N-Out burger) I had was after a basketball game,” Staniec said. That was the In-N-Out near UC Irvine, when he was in high school. Later, as a Chapman student, he would go to the In-N-Out near the university, another of the locations that Fraser photographed.

“There’s so many unique stories.”

Contact the writer: aboessenkool@ocregister.com

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