Stories about weird local laws always begin like urban legends. You might have heard that in Wisconsin, the Dairy State, all restaurants are required by law to serve cheese with every dish, including placing a slice of certified Wisconsin cheese on top of each and every order of apple pie.
Really? Will a waitress get cited for serving a naked apple pie in a Madison diner? No. But it turns out this law was actually kinda true, at least for a few years: A 1935 law required Wisconsin restaurants to serve a small amount of cheese and butter with every meal. One could absolutely imagine that the state legislature, in an effort to boost the local economy during the Great Depression, would require restaurants to “buy local” and serve up a side of state pride. But it didn’t last forever. Due to a sunset provision, the law was off the books in 1937.
These seemingly-silly laws appeal to us in a strange way, piquing our curiosity, but also enlisting us in a brief moral dilemma to decide what’s right and wrong. After learning about a few of these wacky statutes, photographer Olivia Locher realised that a good way to address some of these ridiculous — and often antiquated — ordinances would be by creating similarly ridiculous imagery. Her series I Fought the Law will eventually illustrate laws from all 50 states, including one from Texas (above), where it is illegal for children to have unusual haircuts. This one is apparently still enforced: A Mesquite, Texas, seventh grader was suspended for having “too-high hair” in 2011.
After seeing Locher’s work, I wanted a little more insight about how, say, one learns about a state’s two-dildos-per-household law (that’s you, Arizona!), so I asked Locher a few questions about how she finds inspiration, why we can’t carry ice cream in our pockets in Alabama, and her own law-abiding ways.
Gizmodo: Why did you start the series?
Olivia Locher: After finding some of these laws I thought they would translate very well into photographic work. Shortly after shooting the first few images I decided that I wanted to make an image for every state.
In Wisconsin it’s illegal to serve apple pie in restaurants without cheese
In Arizona, you may not have more than two dildos in a house
Some of these laws are so bizarre. How did you find them?
I found most of them from web research. The most challenging aspect to this project has been finding the origins of the law.
How do you go about fact-checking the origins?
I try reaching out to people from the states to see if they have ever heard of such laws. What I mostly find is that many of the laws are very old and instead of removing them from the books — which is a costly measure — they just remain put.
In Hawaii, coins are not allowed to be placed in ears
In Alabama, it’s illegal to have an ice cream cone in your back pocket at any time
What’s the backstory of your favourite law?
In Alabama, you can’t have an ice cream cone in your back pocket. It’s a very old law. People who used to steal horses would do this in order to lure them away. If they were caught they would use it as an excuse — “I didn’t steal him, he followed me home.”
Which law has been hardest to illustrate?
The bouncing pickles picture was a challenge. Most pickles actually don’t bounce.
In Connecticut, pickles must actually bounce to be considered pickles
In Delaware is it against the law to wear pants which are “form-fitting” around the waist
Which laws are you eyeing next?
I have so many in production — but I have some favourites. In Tennessee, it’s illegal to sell hollow logs. In Idaho, dirt may not be swept from one’s house into the street. In Ohio, it’s illegal to disrobe in front of a man’s picture.
What laws have you personally broken or plan to break?
I actually haven’t broken any yet! I shot all of these images in New York City and Pennsylvania and haven’t made an image for either state yet — although, when I’m travelling in the future, I may test my luck. I’d love to ride a bicycle in a Californian swimming pool one day.
No one in California is allowed to ride a bicycle in a swimming pool