One of the projects shown during the TBYW food waste exhibition in the DokHuis on the 17th and 18th of January is “One Third” by Klaus Pichler. He is a Vienna based artist, who created the series in 2011. We asked him some questions about his work as a photographer and his project to present to you the mission and vision of the man behind the pictures.
Photo: Klaus Pichler
Generally tell me a little about yourself? K: I started out studying landscape architecture. Parts of the studies were different excursions to fascinating landscapes. To capture them I bought a camera. When I unpacked the camera, I knew I was caught. After that I barely finished my studies and started out as an independent photographer. The first two years were financially very hard, but in the second year it started taking off. I taught myself everything I know and improved gradually by finding my own mistakes. By now, I am thinking in photographs and I have never lost the fascination of photography. In my view the most exiting picture is the one not yet taken.
What kinds of projects are you looking for? K: I am looking for topics where I have the feeling that I want to know a lot about the topic. I am doing extensive research, reading theory and meeting experts. The photography is a presentation tool that accompanies my research. The core is the research. The topics I am looking for are socio-political and my girlfriend, who works as anthropologist, told me that my approach is very anthropological.
What was your motivation to do a project about food waste? K: I read an article about the 2011 study of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), which was the first study that examined globally how much food is wasted. The results show that especially supermarket politics and consumers in industrialised countries are responsible for the huge amount of waste. I was shocked by the study and knew that this is a topic I have to engage with. I thought it was absurd, crazy and it concerns all of us every day. So in the end it was a spontaneous decision to do the project coming from my incredulity.
Can you describe the production process of the project? K: I was working on the project for nine months. I wanted it to be provocative and approach it from the perspective of the consumer. I wanted to spark emotions with this project, to catch people off guard. I bought all the food to let it rot at home. It was a challenge. I let it rot at home to make it more credible by coexisting with the project. All the food was stored in plastic boxes in my toilet. That was the nice thing about the project; it pushed me to my limits and made me overcome my level of disgust. Especially the rotting meat was intense. It was in the middle of summer and the chicken woke me up for two days. The food developed odours I would not have been able to think of. Rotting salad develops a sickening smell, barmy and sourly, almost as bad as rotting meat.
What is the message you want to spread with the project? K: On the one hand I wanted to show the extreme extent of food waste and on the other hand the individual story of food products. I borrowed the aesthetics of the advertisement industry and from still lifes of the big masters in art history. The pictures are taken in front of a black background and shown as still lifes. We know them from baroque where they showed wealth by drawing luxurious food like lemons and oysters but also the momentariness of all things (Vanitas). They did not only show momentariness but also vanity. With the set up I also wanted to show that we do not appreciate food anymore.
How was the feedback concerning the project? Do you think you were successful so far in bringing your message across? K: I think with the project I preached to the converted. The pictures went viral in the Internet and I received many cooperation enquiries. The FAO contacted me and my series was shown as a framework project for two years, also at the world food summit. For me it was a big honour that they took on the series. I also worked with Siemens Scandinavia who were advertising a new series of refrigerator which control the moisture in the refrigerator so that food stays fresh for longer. With it they started a huge anti food waste campaign. The whole thing was done with so much dedication that I took part. They even went to schools to show kids how make their parents feel guilty about their food waste.
I must say since I finished the project five years ago a lot has changed. There are many initiatives that work on bringing this message to the people. In Vienna we have the “Wiener Tafel”, they get leftover food from supermarkets and sell or cook the products. There are restaurant chefs using leftover food and other pilot projects who sell ugly vegetables. The appreciation of food increased through food photos on social media and health apps. There is a trend to conscious living. In the end it is not important if people change because they are concerned about the environment or if they do it out of egoistic motives. In the past five years a lot has changed because it is a topic where we can start changing easily.
Thank you for the interview Klaus. In January not only the pictures of Klaus Pichler will be shown at the food waste exhibition of TBYW but the artist will be there personally, so you can ask him any question that was not answered in the interview. For the full series or if you are interested in his work in general look here.