By Mike Pomranz
Updated September 28, 2016
Credit: Shot by Brea Souders and commissioned by VSCO

Diner and street cart food isn’t known for being exciting: It’s the kind of thing you grab because it’s quick, cheap and, helpfully, recognizable. When you order a hot dog, you know exactly what you’re getting. Well, you don’t know exactly what you’re getting, but at least you know what it’s going to look and taste like.

But even though these food standards may not energize your taste buds, as photographer Brea Souders recently proved, they aren’t devoid of energy – the temperature differences in French fries and sodas mean different amounts of thermal energy and can actually make for some pretty interesting imagery.

In a series featured on the image sharing site VSCO, Souders took “a handful of quintessential American foods found in diners and sold by street vendors” and photographed them with a radiometric thermal camera. This technology uses infrared to analyze an object’s temperature and create a colorful visualization of how that heat is distributed, known as a thermogram. As Sounders points out, it’s similar to the kind of thing you may have seen “used by the military or companies in need of surveillance cameras,” especially when working in darkness.

The results are rainbow-like shots showing the heat popping off the cheese on a slice of pizza in bright red or cold blue ice cream presented in contrast to its more room temperature cone. They’re visually appealing in a strikingly simplistic way that Souders describes as being “reminiscent of pop art.”

And just as part of the appeal of a hot dog is the food’s familiarity, there’s something reassuring about seeing its thermogram. The dog is red hot while the bun is shown in a cool blue – a reminder of how you can hold a hot dog in your hand and still burn your mouth when taking a bite. I don’t know if it’s art, but it definitely captures the human experience.