Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Processed Views - Why Watkins? Why Food?

We view each of  the  10 major "food" categories depicted in Processed Views as a "conversation starter" around agricultural practices, food processing and unintended consequences for soil quality and our natural resources.  How did we come to this presentation for our concerns? 

We came to Processed Views from an earlier project, Ponder Food as Love which addressed the nature of nurturing. In those photographs, we were interested in picturing the emotional and physical energy that flows through the act of preparing and sharing food. We could not ignore, however, the flip-side of food consumption in America: a complex, impersonal system of industrial agriculture, food processing and marketing.  In the autumn of 2012, During one of our free-ranging phone conversations, the synapses fired, the web of ideas connected, idea was hatched…
A  Brief History:
We spent the first decade of our collaboration in the late 1070's  roaming, photographing and studying the landscape of America facilitated by the hospitality and generosity of Lindsay's family (sister Lisa, Aunt Christina, Ginny Starquist, Aunt Cordelia and Uncle Bob).  We thought a great deal about the hardships endured by the early photographers. We wondered if we could have produced photographs without the aid of our trusty Buick LeSabre luxury-mobile, coolers and instant coffee. 
When we became mothers back in the midwest, our annual photographic pilgrimages were cut short. In the subsequent years we developed an intimate knowledge of and  relationship with food.  We recognized that food in family life is about nurture, ritual and in forging emotional relationships. Processed Views is a response  to our historical circumstances as much as Watkins, the photographers of the USGS surveys, members of the F64 group or the New Topographers responded to theirs.

Why Carleton Watkins?
We turn to history and mythology to clarify and anchor our research. Looking back 150 years, Carleton Watkins iconic photographs honored unsullied nature and documented human behavior on the frontier. They were a revelation at that time.  His images record a critical time in the ongoing debate between industrial development and conservation.  We are now at a new critical point and the current discourse is fractured.  How can the state of our health, industrial agriculture, chemistry, biological modification of plants and livestock, water and land use, finite natural resources, demographic and geographical change be included in a single conversation?  
Referencing Watkins' sublime views and sites of nascent technological activity in California and Oregon, are an invitation to  viewer to consider an alternate reality in which the trajectory of our agricultural production is taken to an extreme. We fast forward to seductive, garish and static monocultures. 

Why food?
The land is threatened by our activities on many levels: energy extraction, manufacturing pollution, climate change…the scale is vast and opportunities for thoughtful encounters are infrequent and remote.  The most palpable and visceral link to the consequences of our actions is the food we eat. Our most intimate encounter with industrial scale production is processed food, we have an opportunity to consider the consequences of our actions one bite at a time. 

We showcase major components of our diet that are products of industrial development and marketing. 

We allude to Watkins' far vista in our tabletop landscapes, hinting at vastness, yet stranding the viewer a swale of familiar processed food products. The photographer's 18" x 22" Mammoth Plate Views were extraordinarily large and detailed in their time, but are now considered small. We use this format to force the viewer into an intimate encounter with components of the average American diet. The technological commitment to bend the forces of nature in order to fulfill fantasies of a yummy life and heroic expectations of feeding the world has been oversold.  Should we rethink our fun-food utopia in light of scientific evidence of dwindling resources and potential for irreversible harm to the land?

A conjecture filled with pathos….Is there is danger in selling a dream? 
One of the hardest working, most original and technically gifted of American photographers, Watkins' work was renowned aesthetically and aided the cause of conservation and publicly held recreational land. His photographs promoted a utopia: The American West. Throughout his life, Watkins was both unwise and unlucky in his business practices. A crushing blow in his 77th year came at the hands of Mother Nature in the form of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. He continued to struggle to provide for himself and his family, dying blind and penniless in an asylum in 1916. 
His life  reminds us that there is only certainty of change and the unexpected when you construct a dream.

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