Birmingham At Work
A portrait collection by Celestia Morgan
SFA commissioned Birmingham artist Celestia Morgan to create a series of portraits documenting restaurant labor across the city. Morgan pairs the images with quotations from each subject in the exhibit, which debuted at our 2019 Winter Symposium in February.
The collection, titled “A Portrait of Birmingham at Work,” will be on display at the Birmingham Public Library through Tuesday, March 26, 2019.
About the artist
Celestia “Cookie” Morgan is a photographic based artist working primarily in the area of retrospect imagery. She found a love for photography in high school with a 35mm film camera. After high school she hesitated to attend college, but she was inspired to be the first member of her family to receive a college education. With great endurance and her faith in God, she accomplished her goal. She received her BFA in photography at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and recently earned her MFA at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Morgan’s work has been exhibited in Minneapolis Institute of Art in Minneapolis, Minnesota, State of the Art: Discovering American Art – Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, – Alabama Artist: Birmingham Museum of Art- Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, South x Southeast online feature, UAB Hospital Palliative and Comfort Care Unit, and is held in numerous private collection across America. Morgan also contributed a photo essay to our spring 2017 issue of Gravy.
“I started out washing dishes, then the pit. I take pride in my work — they trust me and know that I will get the job done the right way. I’ve never called in never late, I love what I do. Sometimes I come to work early. It’s like I’m married to what I do.”
“I know everyone! We joke all the time that it’s like Cheers, where everyone knows your name, your story, your husband, and yo mama and them. I have customers I’ve waited on the first day I started working here that I still wait on.”
“I’m a student at UAB, and I like to skateboard. I definitely enjoy food and working with food. I think it’s admirable and an enjoyable line of work.”
“Working at Hero’s has turned me into a morning person.”
“I enjoying cooking for a lot of people.”
“People call me to give them tips on how to bake.”
“My grandmother owned a cafe in Titusville. Back in the day everything cooked came right from the garden. If I did a good job I ate fried chicken if I did a bad job I ate boiled chicken. That’s where the cooking came from that’s how I learned, I cook the way my grandmother taught me.”
“Everyone in Homewood knows this place. I grew up in Homewood, my dad lives in Homewood. I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid. Most of the people who live around here have.”
“The customers greet me by my name and ask me how I’m doing; that’s a shocker to me!”
“I go where I’m needed but not in the kitchen. There are times when I’m the cashier, I run drinks, I cut up pizzas at the expo station, and bring them to the tables.”
“I started to build relationships with our guest, and I really enjoy that interaction, I enjoy making them feel comfortable and welcomed. That’s kind of the way I was brought up in my parent house. It’s always been a welcoming environment.”
“I was a nurse back home in East Africa before I got married, when I got married I spent my time with my kids My husband and Al has long shifts long hours, what I use to do is bring my daughter and one of the twins to see their dad. but I love the kitchen, I love cooking that’s is my favorite place.”
“You have to move fast.”
“My grandma got sick, and I had to quit my job. After she died, I needed another job. She was always there to keep me on my feet. I was a grandma’s baby, and I was so used to staying with her. I had to find me a job because I got five kids, so a friend told me about this Post Office Pies.”
“When I moved to Birmingham, everyday I was mowing lawns, and all I could think about was, man, I wish I was behind the line, I wish I was on the grill.”
“Making pizza is more of a motion. I don’t even think while I’m doing it, but I do focus on what the pizza looks like—to see if I made it round enough.”
“My father had a stroke and can’t work anymore. So me and my brother have to put money in for bills. I’m fine with that. I live there, and I love to help.”
“I love to eat, and I’m very proud of my heritage. I always hoped that one day I can make it where the cuisine was all Greek.”
“I love to use my hands. After I run the dishes, I come up front to see what everyone else is cooking. I ask questions because I love to cook. Even though I’m washing dishes doesn’t mean I’ll be washing dishes in a couple of months. I might be doing something else. I try to stay ahead of the game.”
“I came from a family that worked in a bakery. I get emotional when people taste the food and hear one say the food is delicious and I become proud of myself.”