For the last two years, Lakewood, Ohio-based photographer Billy Delfs has been making photos of what Mitchell’s Homemade—a popular brand of ice cream with stores throughout Ohio—prides itself on: responsibly sourced, local ingredients. After a few seasons of visiting and photographing the farms that provide Mitchell’s with ingredients, Billy’s work is now prominently displayed on the walls at the ice cream chain’s flagship location in Cleveland. Billy shared some shots of the final images with us, and we caught up with him to chat more about the process!
Billy landed the commission after visiting the empty building that would be the ice cream shop’s new location with Mike Mitchell, one of the two brothers who started the business years ago. Mike explained to Billy that he wanted to tell the story about where the ingredients come from right there on the walls of the shop when it was all finished. The folks at Mitchell’s source as many local ingredients as they can, and many of the flavors are in their M100 category, meaning that those ingredients come from within 100 miles of their production location. The project really fits into Billy’s style—it combines landscape photography, portraiture and tells an important story.
At first I was just really excited to have the opportunity to make these—to go out to these independent small farms and make images. It started off really well, landscapes, sunrise, sunset etc. What made it tough was to get a set of four to five strong images from each farm that were unique to each place. I couldn’t just make the same images over and over. Mike really let me push that too in the editing process. What may seem like a winning image (one that has been made over-and-over and people imagine what a farm looks like) he never chose. Getting to know each of the farmers and how they operate was the challenge. After the first or second farm I knew I needed to communicate with each of them while photographing so that I could make images that spoke to how they each worked, how they were unique.
I think the reaction has been good. The framer has said that when people see them in the frame shop a lot of people have asked about them. Mike has been very excited and is starting to have more prints made for the other locations, and my sister loves them! It is still pretty new but with the summer coming, more people will be able to see them. For me, I am in awe. I was first published in a magazine in 2000, that was an incredible feeling. To have these up on a wall is surreal. Mike pays so much attention to detail, the frames and my printer really knocked these out of the park. It is truly an honor.
Billy is working on the project on an ongoing basis with Mike. Next, they plan to photograph the herbs (the most difficult shoot) and then the ice cream (including the production and the atmosphere of the kitchen). Billy says he’s learned a lot through the process, and through working with Mike and Mitchell’s:
The trademark beautiful (stock) picture of a farm is important, but doesn’t necessarily tell the story. Same goes for the sunrise/sunset thing. What I found to be most important is to listen to Mike during the editing process, the farmers before during and after the shoot, to always go to each place without prejudgment, and to build a good team.
Check out more of Billy’s work at billydelfs.com.