'Food for the Eyes' at C/O Berlin

Grant Cornett, 'Jello Disco Floor' and 'Sexy Sliders,' 2016. Photo: Paco Neumann
Grant Cornett, Left: 'Jello Disco Floor.' Right: 'Sexy Sliders,' both 2016 for Gather Journal. Ph: Paco Neumann

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Erudite Greeks are always to be quoted, Hippocrates said, “Let your medicine be food, and medicine be your food”, indicating the importance of food for being healthy. In 1850, in the peak of European Romanticism: time of emotions, sublimity, and beauty of nature; German philosopher and anthropologist, Ludwig Feuerbach wrote the famous phrase, “We are what we eat,” in German, of course: “Wollt ihr das Volk bessern, so gebt ihm statt Deklamationen gegen die Sünde bessere Speisen. Der Mensch ist, was er isst, which translated means “If you want to improve the people, instead of speeches against sins give them better food. We are what we eat.”

Food is necessary for our survival, but also play an important role in rituals, religions, and traditions. Likewise, it represents one of the finest elements of our culture. The importance of food as part of everyday life since time immemorial made it a frequently depicted subject. Historically, food appears through images. The history of European pictorial representation is full of food, not only the classic still lifes, but also scenes representing the act of eating or preparing food as a central theme. After the discovery of photography, pictures become the main medium of bidimensional representation.

If we take a leap in time towards our present, our Zeitgeist: the time of the selfie stick, in London there is a restaurant that offers its guests a selfie stick and a LED light upon request. The guests are taking pictures of their food anyway, so at least they make sure it looks good. The latest combination of food and photography —under the hashtag #foodporn— has almost 200 million posts on Instagram which serves mainly as self-affirmation: great restaurant choice, great food, great photo, great life!

Exhibition View, Wolfgang Tillmans. Photo: Paco Neumann

Mixing all the previous: existence, food culture, photography, and trend topics, the exhibition venue for photography and visual media C/O Berlin, transfers the Instagrammers food topic to professional photographers on the exhibition Food for the Eyes. The Story of Food in Photography that can be visited until the 9th of September.

With works from fine art, fashion photography, journalistic stories, advertisements, social networking, and cookbooks the exhibition offers a comprehensive overview of the depiction of food in photography through three themes. Still Life explores one of the most firmly established artistic traditions to photography, where photographers have reinterpreted and subverted a genre originally associated with painting. Around the Table examines the ritual and sense of community around sharing food, and its values on cultural identity. Playing with Food explores the playful use of food in images.

The show brings together works from Nobuyoshi Araki, Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Nan Goldin, Rinko Kawauchi, Laura Letinsky, Martin Parr, Irving Penn, Martha Rosler, Cindy Sherman, Stephen Shore, and Wolfgang Tillmans. Their food photography takes a variety of topics into focus, such as wealth and poverty, tradition and ritual, consumption and waste, gender and race, or lust and disgust.

One who has documented everyday arrangements long before Instagram with now seemingly prophetic indifference is Wolfgang Tillmanns. This Summer Still Life, taken in his London studio in 1995, a window sill can be seen from above, on top of that a bottle turned into a vase, magazines, a dish, and what looks like a carnivorous plant. In the confusion, the blueberries, cherries, grapes, apricot are the more appetizing…. not only a naturally successful mix of colors but also a combination of flavor notes.

British Magnum photographer Martin Parr, the great chronicler with the amused-merciless look, in which the every day looks like ugly, exhibits an eating scene from a series taken between 1983-1985: New Brighton, England, where bathers are queuing to eat “junk” food. The second group of images from 1988 contains bright fairy cakes, tea, and beans on toast, all instantly recognizable as typically “British.”

With her Peluquería, Limones (Hairdressing Salon, Lemons), the Spanish photographer Ouka Leele forces the viewer to think in 1979, beginning of democracy in Spain and artistic explosion of the so-called “Movida Madrileña” of which Leele is a member together with Almodóvar and other artists. Her creative and playful photographic work reveals a surrealist and singular poetic of everyday life. To question both the experiment of reality and the conventions of figuration, she composes stagings, photographs them in black and white to distance them from reality, superimposes colors which are “inherent to life” using paint, before photographing them again. Ouka Leele refuses any systematism of style and claims spontaneity of creation, her series evolve between eccentric, dreamlike or intimist settings; her palette reveals itself in blatant, saturated or tender colors. All in all, from her imaginary, emerges visual poetry, a narration comprehended in the still frame of the photographic image.

Ouka Leele, ‘Peluquería’, 1979 © Ouka Leele. Photo: Paco Neumann

Following with two other ladies, Cindy Sherman and Martha Rosler disrupt the traditional domestic role of the woman in the kitchen. Sherman does not want to show clichés, at the contrary, she shows how sick expectations can be, Untitled #175 from 1987, does not present an elegant woman lying on a beach towel happily looking at the camera, it is a beach photo of a different kind. On her side, Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) by Martha Rosler is a parody of the then growing popularity of cookery programs on television in the 1970s and the idea that the woman belongs in the kitchen. Harmless everyday kitchen utensils become menacing weapons. A satire with lots of anger and frustration.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #175, 1987. Courtesy: The artist and Metro Pictures, NY

The anarchic and legendary 1979 Sausage Series by the Swiss artists Peter Fischli & David Weiss is also on display, for which they recreated everyday situations with pieces of sausage. Hot dogs, German sausages, parsley, and pickles arranged as props in grotesquely absurd scenes, they are all well dressed: sausage dresses in a ham cape and bottle caps as hats. 

Peter Fischli & David Weiss, ‘Modenschau’ from Wurstserie, 1979 © Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Zürich 2018

On the other hand, one would like to touch fashion photographer Irving Penn’s similarly iconic frozen fruit and vegetable arrangements as sculptures from 1977 and his numerous artful still lifes. Cutting-edge photographers used food as a medium to showcase new technology like stop-motion photography. If one could stop time …, professor Harold Edgerton shows us in his photographs what you might see. For example, a bullet being shot through an apple from 1964. Edgerton invented the strobe flash in the 1930s, and his stroboscopic photography captured amazing moments that would otherwise be missed in the blink of an eye. “The legacy and influence of these photographs cannot be underestimated; variations on them can be seen regularly in advertising, and even in films such as The Matrix,” says curator Susan Bright.

Other remarkable photographers shown are the “controversial” and provocateur infamous Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, the perfect contemporary satyr known for his naked and/or tied women. Here he presents his 1993 series The Banquet. Or American artist Sandy Skoglund, with Peas on a Plate, one of the ten Food Still Lifes of colorful geometric arrangements from 1978, on which she also refers to 1970s consumer culture.  

Jumping to contemporary times, from the already second decade of the 21st century are the amazing images from artist Daniel Gordon, Pineapple and Shadow, or Clementines from his 2011 series Still Lifes, Portraits And Parts.

Very recent images published in the Gather Journal are also part of the exhibition, from 2015 is the appetizing image Strawberry Vanilla Semifreddo from Keirnan Monaghan & Theo Vamvounakisfor or our cover pictures from Grant Cornett, Jello Disco Floor Sexy Sliders both from 2016.

Last but not least, after all this playfull show, our walk ends with a vindictive, politic and poetic work from French artist JR who also kind close the show at C/O. JR’s Giant Picnic shots were taken in autumn 2018 at Tecate, on the border between Mexico and the States. The artist used a photo of a kid’s eyes —chosen as the symbol of the “Dreamers”, the thousands of young undocumented immigrants whose hopes were abruptly destroyed when Trump canceled the DACA program last year— to create a huge table from one side of the border to the other, around which hundreds of people shared food, music, and probably hope.

JR, ‘Giant Picnic’, 2018. Photo: Paco Neumann.

Food for the Eyes. The Story of Food in Photography at C/O Berlin. On view until the 9th of September

Words: María Muñoz
Photos: Paco Neumann

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