Saturday, February 27, 2016

From Columbus to Celebrity chefs: How Food Helped Shape History

"Parrots and Fruit with Other Birds and a Squirrel," Tobias Stranover, c. 1710

Food. Food is essential to sustain life, has had a massive impact on the planet's environment, caused conflict between peoples and nations throughout history, and been a source of inspiration for artists and a source of entertainment for modern television audiences tuning into the latest episode of "Cutthroat Kitchen." Despite the undeniable and overwhelming importance of food, the study of the history of food remains an emerging field. It was with this in mind that Paul Freedman, a professor at Yale University, began teaching a course entitled "The History of Food" in 2009.

Freedman believes that studying the history of food can tell modern historians a lot about societies of the past, including what their diets looked like and how they produced food to feed their populations. Additionally, he points out that a number of historical events have been caused by changing tastes, exemplified by demand for sugar. The growing European taste for sugar, which was used in tea, coffee, and sweets such as chocolate, motivated European nations to establish plantations in colonies in Brazil and the Caribbean, which were worked by African slaves sent there for that purpose. Thus, Freedman argues, sugar was a driving factor behind one of the most "cataclysmic movements of people in history." In a similar fashion, expeditions like that of Columbus in 1492 were also motivated by food, this time the desire for spices from India. It is possible to conjecture that European colonization of North America may have been delayed, had Columbus not been searching for the mouthwatering flavor of Indian spices.

Outside of being a driving factor behind the colonization of the Americas, food has been featured prominently in art throughout the ages, particularly in Dutch still life paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries. Within a still life, food could have allegorical meaning, referring to stories from the Bible or acting as a memento mori, or could function as a symbol of wealth. Depictions of exotic, expensive fruit and nuts were status symbols that reflected the wealth of the owner of the painting. This practice could be compared to how a photo of a bottle of costly cold-pressed juice on Instagram is intended to reflect the wealth of its poster. Food is also an extremely popular source of entertainment for modern television audiences; the existence of the scores of food-related shows that are seemingly always available are evidence of the powerful ability of food to entertain.

Perhaps generations of the future will look back at television shows and Instagram posts to determine how food impacted the lives of those of the 21st century, much like how Freedman have used the historical record to track the effects of food on global history. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that the study of the history of food is one that holds great importance for both the past and the future.

Pierre Javelle and Akiko Ida: The Minimiam Universe

Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle combine photography, magical landscapes, culinary backdrops, and portraiture to create settings inhabited by diminutive characters, referred to as minimiam. Each diptych reveals to the viewer a whimsical land that plays with our minds, as well as the subject. Akiko, Japanese, has always been attracted to the world of gastronomy. As a child, she invented tiny characters that populated her journal. She is a renowned food photographer. Akiko has participated in more than 30 cookbooks and her work is published in international magazines. Pierre, French, grew up on comics. He is published in major gourmet magazines and his still-like photographs appear in corporate commercials.

The MINIMIAM project morphs multiple genres of photography, including microphotography, culinary art, portraiture and landscape. The action, ranging from sporting scenes to warfare, takes place in carefully staged, fantastic, food settings. In each work, the first image introduces toy-like actors in an ambiguous setting. The second panel reveals the scene’s totality, to an unexpected, often amusing end. Though generally light-hearted and playful, the artists’ work intelligently probes fundamental questions of human perception, and how meaning is constructed and manipulated through images. 

Sophisticated photographic devices form the core of the artists' expression, which both entertain and unsettle the viewer. Using extremely short depths of field with very small apertures, the miniature characters are sharply in focus, while the surrounding landscapes are blurred. At the same time, their diminutive size contrasts with the gigantic surrounding space, allowing the viewer's eye to freely wander around the entire scene. Stage set lighting silhouettes the actors adding drama to the story, and intensifying the textures and colors of the edibles. Our appetite is piqued.


Processed Views at Expo 2015 Milano - Feed a Different Imagination

The nutrition and the resources of our planet are issues of vital urgency. For this we decide to focus on the themes of 2015 Universal Exhibition ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’, and to launch our own campaign ‘Feed a Different Imagination.' The campaign is free and open to all photographers who want to contribute to inspire our need to deepen and discuss these issues. This initiative is designed by Expo 2015.

On Processed Views:

Processed Views interprets the frontier of industrial food production: the seductive and alarming intersection of nature and technology. As we move further away from the sources of our food, we head into uncharted territory replete with unintended consequences for the environment and for our health.

In our commentary on the landscape of processed foods, we reference the work of photographer, Carleton Watkins (1829-1916). His sublime views framed the American West as a land of endless possibilities and significantly influenced the creation of the first national parks.  However, many of Watkins’ photographs were commissioned by the corporate interests of the day; the railroad, mining, lumber and milling companies. His commissions served as both documentation of and advertisement for the American West. Watkins’ images upheld the popular 19th century notion of Manifest Destiny – America’s bountiful land, inevitably and justifiably utilized by its citizens.

We built these views to examine consumption, progress and the changing landscape.