While waiting at a snack bar and looking at the food displays, Dutch photographer Rene Nuijens and art director Ewoudt Boonstra of publisher KesselsKramer had the idea of collecting the faded food pics for a nice little compendium called Bad Food Gone Worse – not to show strange food tastes but the inevitable fate of all mundane things: to fade away and vanish before our eyes. Bad Food Gone Worse contains the contemporary fast food versions of a vanitas still life. PingMag presents not, um, exactly mouth-watering objects, but surealistic works of food art.
Written by Verena
First, how did it all start with the collection?
Ewoudt: I got the idea while I was waiting for my order of French fries, noticing I was surrounded by pictures of green fries and yellow burgers. The duality of these images struck me: Despite them being clearly outdated they hadn’t lost their function. Rene is a photographer and director with a similar passion for duality so he was the first one that popped into my mind.
Rene: I liked the idea so much that I obsessively started looking for these shots!
Where did you two collect all those pictures: Besides spotting those in shop displays, was it maybe your personal flea market collection…?
Rene: None of the photos are from flea markets – or from the Internet. All shots were taken on location in restaurants, snackbars and all sorts of places where people sell food and display food pictures. We travel quite a lot for our work and, for nearly two years, everywhere we went in Europe we had a built-in sensor that spotted these kind of shots. We have been searching the streets for those shots that where taking in Russia, Serbia, Montenegro, Belgium, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy…
Ewoudt: …and Turkey.
What was the weirdest way you got hold of an image – any anecdotes?
Rene: I have been kicked out of several places. But on the other side of the spectrum, people took out their menu cards to show me the photos in them. By the way, the grill bar opposite the place where the book launch took place changed its photographs after seeing its shots in the book.
Ewoudt: For me, the funniest thing was that the printer of the book said that he couldn’t print it. We asked Why? Is there a technical problem? And he said No. I get sick every time I look at it.
May I call it a certain aesthetics of morbidity, or how would you better describe this special kind of food art?
Rene: Both… Some are very beautiful, as if they were painted. Others are pretty disgusting, I have to admit.
Ewoudt: The visual world is a very fast world: Magazines come out once a week or once a month; posters get replaced weekly; billboards get replaced twice a month; newspapers are put out daily. There is no time for decay as everything has to look brand new and fresh. Snack food photography is one of the few places in the visual world where time gets a grip on images. I think we should embrace that and see the beauty in it.
The colours in homemade printouts tend to fade the quickest. From “Bad Food Gone Worse”. © KesselsKramer
See the strange beauty in it! From “Bad Food Gone Worse”. © KesselsKramer
I guess the images question our definition of beauty in a nicely ironic way. It demonstrates that beauty, in this case mouth-watering dishes, is firstly something in our imagination – and the pictures just remind you of that. What do you think?
Rene: First, it’s important that people see what kind of food is sold and it helps you to make a decision. But in the end it doesn’t matter how the pictures look. If people are hungry… they will eat!
Ewoudt: Exactly! The irony is that it doesn’t matter what the pictures look like. That says something about the way we work with images – once they start to fade, they become obsolete. Another ironic aspect is that modern technology doesn’t help, but makes things worse: People start taking pictures of their dishes themselves and print them on their own printer – a lot of Chinese restaurants do this for some reason– and those pictures will fade away within days.
I really like the way the colours fade in some pictures – a watery spectrum, transforming the objects into something else entirely. Did that draw you to these as professional photographer?
Rene: Some shots even reminded me when I was experimenting in art school, trying to burn negatives, putting sand on them, burying them or making double exposures. The fading away was definitely the beauty of the pictures, but we were also really surprised how nobody cared how the pictures looked. Both owners and the diners!
Ewoudt: Most of the time I’m more interested in imperfection than perfection.
So, you ate in some or all of those restaurants?
Rene: Oh yes! Sometimes I thought it would be better if I ordered first before asking the owner to take the photographs.
Ewoudt: No! The images are meant to be superfluous. Once I started really looking at them I became too disgusted.
The cover logo of the “Bad Food Gone Worse” collection. © KesselsKramer
Your book intro says Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder who, sooner or later, will be hungry. Lovely variation! Personally, what does your favourite food look like?
Rene: I like the Mediterranean kitchen and home stewed food. As simple and honest as possible…
Ewoudt: My favourite food is anything vegetarian and organic, even burgers and French fries.
Oh! You would absolutely love the plastic food replicas in the window displays of Japanese restaurants over here. However, their colours never fade away… Thank you, Rene Nuijens and Ewoudt Boonstra for sharing your visual Bad Food Gone Worse delicacies with us today!