3-minute chat for mood refreshment. Facts and everyday-life examples from first hand experts. In this episode, artist Wojtek Wieteska speaks about the photographic existence of a tomato.
AD: I am looking at the photograph on The New York Times’ Instagram and I can’t get over the fact how great a tomato can be photographed. It seems like a surface of another planet and yet it still looks like a tomato.
WW: From the conceptual point of view there is not much going on here. But this simplicity is very consciously staged.
AD: So what is it exactly about this photograph that it makes me want to understand the existence of the tomato? I don’t want to eat it, I want to dive into it. Is it the perfect lightning that does the trick?
WW: It is more than that. It is the light and other ingredients of the photoshoot coming together. There is the digital side of the image which is responsible for the consistency of the photograph, no analogue photographs would result in such crispiness. The particular light frequency – I bet they used LED lamps which penetrate the surface in a completely different way than “analogue” light bulbs. The postproduction pays a role as well as the image must be prepared to be displayed at screen instead of print.
AD: All that for such simple effect.
WW: Well it is much more easy to deliver a certain level of quality when you are aware of the past examples from visual culture. I am referring of course to Irving Penn’s still life series from the 70s and 80s. Let’s take as an example his Italian Still Life from 1982. Mozzarella, tomato and olive – what could be more basic? Somehow the arrangement and the subtle drawing of light on the surface makes a perfect metaphor of an Italian classic and shifts your attention away from the vegetables themselves. His Frozen Foods with String Beans from 1977 couldn’t not be simpler – just squares of small fruits and vegetables composed one block on another. It is not about the composition, it all goes down to the impression of the cold surface. What you associate it with, is up to you.
AD: On the other hand there are still life examples from European paintings.
WW: Sure, till today the echo of Caravaggio’s paintings are to be found in XXI-st century advertising. I personally like different example of his contemporary, a painter named Juan Sanchez Cotan (1561-1627) who staged single fruits and vegetables side by side, even using strings to hang them and then painting the strings as well. This behind the scenes element is bold and subtle. I can feel Cotan winking to us from the past.
AD: So in a word, not only the aesthetics of certain representations did not change much but also their functions. In the XVI-th and XVII-th century, still lives were moralist paintings, so you can say that they were “selling” a certain philosophy and lifestyle. And now, The New York Times uses still life image to “sell” the article about genetically modified food, which is also in long perspective, a lifestyle choice.
WW: Yes, because there is no time to think. This tomato is not anymore like in the Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup multi compositions. Reality is quicker and a thicker so the image must be consumed at once. It must be light digestive and clinically fresh.
AD: You know what, now that I think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of the day this tomato image was pure render.
WW: Take it easy. It is too early in the morning to be questioning the existence of a tomato.
Wojtek Wieteska – artist and PhD in visual arts. Trained as a traditional filmmaker and photographer he is now examining the forms of expression and mutual relations of digitally produced images in popular culture, arts and new forms of creative expression such as VR and AR. He works as lecturer at School of Form (SWPS University in Warsaw), specialisation communication design.