University: University of Huddersfield
Genre: Commercial Food
Artist Statement: Au nom du quoi? [In the name of what?] explores the use of food photography in order to engage with current world affairs. Placing political violence in contrast to the fundamentally important occasion of sharing food. Research is imperative to the body of work; the accuracy’s are key throughout, strengthening the validity of the imagery. Concentration is on IS/ISIS/DAESH related attacks that took place during the Western culture of dining. Each scene depicts a particular moment paused in time, staged with the familial assets of western food photography (and the culture associated with it), amongst subtle clues to the IS attempts to destroy it. This is achieved by converging the seductive qualities and commercial conventions of Western food photography, alongside cultural tropes, to ultimately reflect on death and destruction.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? For me surrounding myself with likeminded individuals gave me the creative outlet to explore my photographic practice. The University of Huddersfield has some fantastic studio facilities, with equipment available to me that I just wouldn't have other wise had access to. One of the biggest standout moments from not only my time at university but also for the development of my project, was the opportunity to attend ‘Paris Photo 2015’, one of the largest exhibitions of the photographic calendar. The chance to spend a day surrounding myself with some of the most critically acclaimed work was an incredibly aspiring experience, it gave me a lot of ideas of how to develop my own projects, and made me consider differing exhibition methods. It was the unfortunate events that followed that evening that made me consider the cultural impact of political violence and was the starting point of my final major project.
Which photographic genre do you consider you work fall into? Aesthetically, my work would conform to more of a commercial food photography genre. I used the commercial conventions of western food photography to contrast the conceptual ideas surrounding political violence, within a faux documentary framework.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? I have always been interested with the human relationship to food and the dining culture associated with it. It is no longer just a necessity for the means of nourishment, I’m interested in the complex relationships that we have developed and what they represent. Using the universal act of a shared meal, with friends or family, as a vehicle to explore more complex issues like political violence, an unfortunate end to a meal.
Can you talk us through your process of making this work; research, props, and influences for example? My research led me to look at artists such as Henry Hargreaves, his body of work No Seconds in particular, where in which he explored the last meal requests of Texas inmates who were sentenced to state sponsored death. Hargreaves merged food photography with in depth research in to create a portfolio of food images that also responded to a more critical rationale.
The combination of me being in Paris at the time of the terrorist attacks at Parisian restaurants, alongside also being a part of that industry made me think of the scenes left behind at these restaurants. This is where my project Au nom du quoi? started, and once back in the UK I immediately began looking at ways in which I could respond to the event.
Research was imperative to my project, I wanted the little details in the images to be as accurate as possible, from the food that was served to the ambience, in order to represent what could have been witnessed on the night of the attacks. I underwent in depth research into the restaurants menus, the table settings and the general environment. This assisted me in choosing appropriate food and table props for each scenario, validating the imagery.
After more research it became clear that the information of specific events on the ground in Syria was just not available to me. In order to respond to this, I felt I needed to create a book that would contain the full series alongside supplementary information to address the potential bias in the project. I experimented with the use of maps, text and found imagery alongside my work whilst adopting an incredibly reduced aesthetic to the design. I felt that the use of gray scale maps was a potential key to creating the conceptual framework of the series.
After researching Lebanese artist Walid Raad, and his project lets be honest the weather helped in which Raad combined his research and use of the archive alongside found imagery towards political conflict in Beirut. Raad used a key of coloured dots onto images that represented ammunition impact point, differentiated between ammunition types and relative sizes.
After experimentation with the use of coloured dots on the maps in my book, there was a moment where I felt the project started to work, a deplorable contrast between the singularities of individual attacks in the West and the sheer amount of dots on the Syria map (signified an air strike(s) targets of the Russian and the US-coalition forces).
In terms of text, I looked at the victims of each attack, listing their names and ages alongside each the individual events and relative images. I also used snippets of media reports and eyewitness accounts situated around the names. These textual elements I feel help to strengthen the sense of ambiguity of the project, and create a feel of news or a restaurant guide.
It’s the textual element in which I was also able to strengthen the conceptual framework of the project. Within the final image of Syria in which I know nothing concerning the victims of war, only a disconcerting estimated death toll of the Syrian conflict, marked at 470,000 since the conflict began in 2011 (according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights).
What do you hope for your viewer to learn from seeing your work? My ultimate aim for the project is for the viewer to reflect on the death and destruction of political violence. I also want the viewer to achieve an appreciate understanding of the other side of the western attacks, the civil unrest in Syria and the impact of the wests response to these attacks.
Why have you chosen to portray the different cultures that you have in this series of work? Being from the UK, I wanted to create an familial aesthetic in terms of the conventions of western food photography and the food culture associated with it. News and media, and the politics involved, can overwhelm us at times and the facts can often be inaccurate. I wanted to look at attacks that took place in Western Europe, America and western dominated tourist locations as a catalyst to consider the wider issue.
What are your future plans for this body of work? I hope to continue my studies at the University of Huddersfield, developing and expanding the project through my MA, considering the cultural impact of terrorism as a global issue.
You completed your studies roughly a year ago. What are your thoughts now? Have you made any new work in that time? I completed the project roughly this time last year and it's still as relevant as it was then. The conflict in the Middle East is still yet to be resolved and tensions in Europe and beyond are still high. Although I haven’t yet continued with the project but I feel that it could develop as a more in depth study between culture and terrorism.
There will always be things that you can react to and make new images around, so do you think Au nom du quoi? will ever be complete? As long as terrorism and terrorist groups are still at large, wether that be ISIS or others, the project Au nom du quoi? could potentially never be complete. There will always be events from which I can make reflective work on, perhaps that means moving away from food and the culture of dining and look at other ways in which I can reflect on the nature of each individual attack and the motives behind them.
Were there any photobooks that inspired the creation of your own? The nature of the project forced me to explore non traditional avenues in the creation of the photobook. In order to extend the ambiguity of the work through the book I made the look and feel to be more of a brochure/ restaurant guide. One of the big influences behind the design of the book came from Walid Raad's project The Atlas Group. Raads use of coloured dots as indicator of a type of shell fire used in warfare. I used these dots to show the singularity of incidents in the west and to reflect on the sheer devastation in Syria at the hands of the rebels, ourselves and our allies.
Your lighting and compositions are perfect. Have you got any technical tips you can share for making images in a similar style to yours? Be critical, don’t be happy with the first attempt. In order to to achieve the commercial aesthetic it's important to slow down the creative process and be extremely critical of every aspect of the image. Shoot tethered, take a shot, change something and take another. It takes time and can be a challenge, especially when working with perishables but the end result is worth it.
My use of lighting was generally dictated through research. Looking at the lighting that would have been available during each attack to create that was accurate as well as competent in lighting. Experiment and test before working with the food, look at things like props and backgrounds first this will save many headaches on the day of the shoot