Assignment 2: ideas and experiments

As per the initial post with my Statement of Intent, I’ve been thinking about and trying out some ideas on how to get my message across regarding food poverty and its impacts on individuals.

I’ve batted a few ideas back and forth for a couple of weeks, some I’ve tried out and others I abandoned at the idea stage. Summary below:

1. Choices

One of the issues I heard food bank clients voice was the need to make tough decisions on what to spend their limited money on – ‘heating or eating’ is the classic one, with others being trading off food against e.g. children’s clothes, bus fares or sanitary products.

I envisaged a white background tabletop studio set series depicting two items of the same price, with the title being the price, e.g. (these are stock images, I didn’t execute this idea):

5054070190180_130_IDShot_4                   21106446_130_IDShot_4

60p

I stepped away from this idea for a couple of reasons. First, I thought it was just a little too simple. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, I saw an amazing project with enough similarities to dissuade me. Helen my tutor had pointed me to Stefen Chow’s vast and impressive project The Poverty Line, which depicts amounts of food by price value, according to daily income on the poverty line in over 20 countries worldwide.

Poverty Line
The Poverty Line – Stefen Chow

The overarching concept and the specific execution are not exactly what I had in mind, but the core idea of depicting food according to value in a typographical presentation was too similar.

2. Hand to mouth

Very early in my thinking I became enamoured with the phrase ‘living hand to mouth’, and the gestural possibilities it offered.

I visualised isolating hands and mouths in photographs to depict how this need to find food becomes all that is important in life:

I was visually inspired, I realised later, by the Broomberg & Chagrin project People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground (Dots) (2011), their postmodern take on the Northern Ireland photographic archive, where archivists’ stickers had obscured small circular parts of images for a couple of decades.

screen-shot-2012-07-20-at-19-03-41
People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground (Dots), 2011 – Broomberg & Chagrin

I abandoned this mainly because I just couldn’t really get it to work as well as I’d visualised it. The end results could have looked very same-y, with little sense of narrativity or breadth. Also, on an interpretive note to match the wordplay of the concept, mouths are almost always above hands and so ‘read’ first, making the initial reading ‘mouth-hand’ rather than ‘hand-mouth’. Once I realised this, I couldn’t shake it off.

So I put this one down as a noble failure and moved on. Elements of it such as the negative space still attract me but I’m still thinking how to work them in.

3. Tunnel vision

Something that food bank clients have articulated is the sense that the need to provide food becomes all-encompassing and prevents them focusing on anything else. If you take Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model, these are people stuck on Level 1, worrying about the most basic physiological human needs. There’s no scope for thoughts of self-esteem, relationships or even physical safety when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.

I tried to imagine what such anxious single-mindedness feels like. The visual metaphor I came up with was something like tunnel vision, where you can only focus on one small sliver of life and disregard all else.

I mocked up a few versions of this, a physical manipulation by taping card over portions of my camera lens to narrow the field of light to a vertical strip, and a couple of post-processing versions where I blacked or whited out portions of the image in software:

Whilst I liked the idea in theory, I really disliked my results. This kind of manipulation, real world or digital, just doesn’t feel like my style. I understand the importance of experimentation and so happy to try new approaches, but I just don’t think this works, not the way I’m executing it anyway.

My other concern was content: I’d need to construct 10 scenes relevant to food poverty experience from a first-person viewpoint, and I’d only got four or five decent ideas that I knew I could stage.

Like the ‘hand to mouth’ concept I think elements of this have some merit, so am thinking how to work these aspects into the chosen idea.

4. Hallucinating food

I put these two words in an email to my tutor as a last-minute throwaway idea to add to a few example concepts, yet after a few days it really started to take hold.

Another way of depicting the ‘anxious, obsessive’ state of mind described earlier, when food is uppermost in your mind, is to depict surreal scenes where foodstuffs are appearing in unexpected places.

This started to appeal once I realised that I could directly relate this to work of food banks. A food bank will provide an individual or household with a three-day emergency food parcel based around a checklist. The example below is for a two people but I intend to work with the list for a single person.

Checklist

This gives me a partial content framework for the concept – I could stage scenes where one or more of these items is in a public place. I envisage a journey narrative, so that the set could resemble a grim kind of treasure hunt, culminating in arrival at the food bank.

Once the idea started to develop, I recognised two sources of inspiration for the ‘everyday objects in unusual places’ concept:

Firstly, the photobook III by Robin Maddock (2014). It’s a series of surreal b&w scenes in US cities with one of three everyday white objects inserted into the frame: a ping pong ball, a blank sheet of paper or milk. The effect is strangely enthralling, like Lee Friedlander having a David Lynch dream.

III, 2014 – Robin Maddock

Secondly, I realised I was being influenced by an ongoing personal project of my own! For a while now I’ve been collecting photos of lost objects, and while most of these are clothes and toys, occasionally one is more unusual and surreal:

I recalled two specific instances where I saw foodstuffs in odd places (strangely, on the same street), and maybe these two are the initial trigger for the execution idea:

 

So – I think I’ve landed on the conceptual framework for the series: scattering the component parts of an emergency food parcel across various public places to create a travelogue from home to food bank.

I will start work on the execution over the next few days.

Sources

http://www.broombergchanarin.com/people-in-trouble/ (accessed 14/04/2016)

http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html (accessed 14/04/2016)

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