Diana Shearwood is a Montreal-based photographer whose exhibit What's For Dinner? opens Wed., Sept. 26, at the Silver Eye Center for Photography. The show consists of large-scale images of trucks transporting food. She responded to CP's questions via e-mail.
What message are you trying to send with this exhibit?
Rather than a specific message, by focusing on these ubiquitous moving billboards, I hope to bring attention to the paradoxical reality that the 20 fresh foods that typically fill your shopping basket have traveled over 100,000 miles [even though] many of these items could be sourced nearby. Eating as much local produce as possible reduces imports and has a beneficial effect on the environment, as well as on personal health.
Where did you find the trucks?
The project began four years ago when I saw an 18-wheeler with a larger-than-life image of three adorable children on it. It was an advertisement for milk. I followed the truck behind a mall and snapped a couple of photos. Eventually, I started to note the information on food trucks I passed. Using MapQuest, I would locate the depots and visit them on the weekend. I purposely photographed food trucks in as many places as I could: New York, Hong Kong, Dublin, etc.
So these issues are not exclusively American?
I wanted to indicate that the commodification of food is universal. As a Canadian, I am not so naive as to think, for example, that over-nutrition, processed foods, and agricultural monocultures coupled with their health, economic and environmental consequences, are issues that are exclusive to the United States. Rather, [they] are challenges that all developed countries are faced with in varying degrees.
What were some compositional ideas you explored?
As I started to scan and print the images, I preferred the effect when they were tightly cropped. The "Vitamin Water" picture is the perfect example. The viewer thinks the picture is merely an image of colored bottles. But then the vehicle's door handle comes into focus, and the viewer sees that something isn't right. This close framing forces people to actually look more carefully at this specific aspect of their everyday landscape.
How did people react to your work?
I was surprised by the number of people who had never noticed these images. Perhaps this is because advertising, at least in North America, covers almost every possible surface available and people have become immune to it. The truck food imagery is like a form of seduction. It glistens and smiles at us and bears no relation to the food inside the truck, which is not only laced with pesticides and preservatives, but has traveled thousands of miles before it reaches your plate. It mirrors our consumer society: Even our nutrition is governed by profit margin.
What's For Dinner? Artist's talk and opening reception with Diana Shearwood 3 p.m. Sat., Sept. 29; $5. Show continues through Nov. 24. Silver Eye Center for Photography, 1015 E. Carson St., South Side. 412-431-1810