Behind a Small Detail, Could Be a Bigger Story
Anita Pouchard Serra
+February 15, 2020
A few days ago, Hair love by Matthew A. Cherry and producer Karen Rupert Toliver won the animation Oscar in the US. Through a simple act of a father combing his daughter's hair, we go through many questions: from the father-daughter relationship to the representation of African Americans. This article is a reflection on two projects that were able to cover great themes from a simple but powerful element. Less is more continues to be true on many occasions and here are two mind blowing essays which illustrate this expression perfectly.
Ana Maria Buitron, an Ecuadorian photographer, started from a very personal experience. Her world of questions, that from the outside might seem like a superficial detail, brings us closer to her project Unruly, which on the surface, starts as a series about women and their hair and then moves to deeper questions related to our identities and lives.
It took me a year to get my hair natural, afro. It was a process of accepting myself. Since I was 18 years old, I've used a lot of chemicals in my hair, to straighten my hair, to have big curls, so I wouldn't have black curls. I didn't have people around me to identify with, who looked like me. Until one day the hairdresser didn't want to straighten my hair anymore because it was too damaged.
So, she decided to bring her own questions about identity to people close to her, the feminine as seen from the aesthetics of her hair. This simple question about hair was the connecting point of many women's stories of pain, humor, of violence and harm, but also love and empowerment.
Through a Facebook post, she received around 150 messages in one week from women who wanted to participate in the project. The process consists of an interview and a portrait, which is born collectively from the exchange between the woman and the photographer. Unruly is a space of freedom, a collection of stories in which thousands of other women can identify within themselves. It is also a reflection on beauty standards, on what may seem to be a superficial detail in advertising, but in reality can condition and shape us for better or worse, as part of a deeper identity.
The world of consumption and our habits is also at the center of concern for journalist Victoria Bouloubasis and photographer Lauren Vallen in their collective project Cravings. They started from the simple observation of our habits in terms of consumption and eating out. Culinary beauties, symmetrical perfection, ideal colors as if by magic that end up flooding our social networks without thinking about the stories behind these beautiful products.
With Cravings, they wanted to change the focus of our attention by putting the light on those who prepare and make these meals for us, from a clear and particularly interesting socio-cultural position.
The product of their labor is dignified in public view, glorified on social media--cheekily, as #foodporn. It would not be presumptuous, then, to assume that cooks have developed a culinary expertise far superior to any diner’s palate. But we rarely consider their work as a skill. It’s the immigrant’s contribution to us. The voyeuristic gaze of Instagram food porn dives into an aesthetically symmetrical view of a world that is inherently asymmetrical.
The beauty of the project comes from, amongst other things, its ability to bring together two themes that we might think of as being far removed from each other. With a topic seen and treated like migration, they manage to open new panoramas and views of the world around us, our habits and our actions.
We ultimately wanted to bring awareness to the chefs and the lives they had to give up in their home countries just to work in the food service industry here in the U.S.
The visual game of the project suggests an air of mystery, it tries to generate the desire to know more and to move away from a voyeuristic attitude, showing the faces of the workers. The careful and colorful pictures of the work tables and the hands of the cooks, invite the viewers imagination to take control and allow their minds to wander through a world of questions about the subjects and, therefore about people in general and our relationship to what we have just eaten.
Just like the projects Cravings and Unruly, the current wind and air of deconstruction are our allies: the occasion to look at each object, action or space that surrounds us from a new perspective, with questions that we had never imagined before. Shaking up imposed orders and accumulated routines through visual stories may appear minimal, but is in fact tremendously powerful.