This famous photograph of Joan Didion’s Malibu kitchen is not what it appears

The death of writer Joan Didion last month inspired a litany of think pieces, appreciations, and at least one in-depth Slack analysis. At Slate, a photograph of Didion’s California kitchen published in a 1972 issue of Vogue (and currently for sale by Condé Nast as a ready-to-hang framed print for $145) recently consumed staffers on the company’s food-dedicated Slack channel. Some praised the charming “haphazardness” of the still life, which shows a kitchen counter overflowing with cookbooks, hanging baskets filled with fruits and vegetables, and fresh herbs sprouting from colorful pottery. Others were dismayed by the kitchen’s impracticality and lack of “taxonomy.” “The red apples and golden apples should be side by side, as should the oranges and lemons,” argued staffer Seth Maxon. Amid the debate, eagle-eyed staffers made two crucial discoveries: The much-circulated image was printed in reverse (as you can see from zooming in and reading the spines of Didion’s books), and the herb garden and books are not sitting on a kitchen counter at all, but what appears to be a top-loading washing machine. Just how, exactly, did Joan and husband John Gregory Dunne do the laundry? Patricia I. Escárcega