In this weekly interview-series SLR Lounge features amazing photographers from all around the world. Every Sunday we interview a photographer whose work pushes the boundaries of our profession to create images that are emotional, edgy, original, and most of all capture a unique moment in time. We hope these interviews will inspire you, and will help you learn more about these great photographers. This week we bring you the first of a two-part interview with architectural and fine art photographer Mark Menjivar.
The Psychology of Last Night’s Leftovers
So what is in your medicine cabinet? Some would consider it a glimpse into the psyche of your dinner party host. No doubt, that is why my mother used to clean hers out before Thanksgiving dinner each year in response to the curious eyes of our yearly guests. But what about the fridge? As the old adage would say – you are what you eat – which makes me wonder what psychological inferences could be made of my curry take-out, organic balsamic vinaigrette, container of pine nuts, nestled next to a Tupperware full of last Sunday’s Spanish rice and beans.
Photographer Mark Menjivar explores the social and psychological context of our refrigerators in his series You Are What You Eat. Recently, I was able to discuss some of the influences and philosophy of Menjivar’s current work.
Name: Mark Menjivar
Location: San Antonio, TX, USA
How did you first come to see yourself as a fine art photographer?
I came to the arts in 2005 after working in non-profits here and in South America. I felt that I could place emphasis on questions instead of always needing to have answers. While I love the medium of photography, my curiosity is sustained and intellect stimulated by ideas and stories.
How did you come to begin photographing refrigerators for your series You Are What You Eat?
In 2005 I was working with another artist on a documentary about hunger in the United States. As I was talking to people about their experiences, I found myself asking all kinds of questions I had not really thought about before. I began exploring things visually and one day I happened to open my fridge at home and decided to make an image of it. When the film came back, I saw things I didn’t even know were in there. That led to me starting the project. I have now photographed over 50 fridges in 22 states.
What is your favorite story relating to this project?
Recently I have been thinking a lot about the midwife in then project. You may not be able to tell from the photo, but she was considered morbidly obese and her doctor had just told her that she was not going to live 10 more years when I took that image. Since then she has lost close to 200 pounds and is much healthier. I keep in touch with many of the people I met doing that project and I always like to hear how they are doing.
Food issues seem to be a reoccurring theme in your current work – how has this subject impacted your personal and professional life?
During this project I wrote down everything I ate for 365 days. Doing this made me realize how I was actually eating, instead of how I thought I was eating. An example is, if you had asked me how often I was eating fast food, I would have said 2-3 times a month. I was actually eating 2-3 times a week – way more than I wanted to be eating it. I was traveling so much back then. It also helped my wife and I recommit to our backyard garden. Each season since, we have been producing – last night we had a huge Kale salad from the back.
In a recent artists panel you mentioned your background in social work. Do you feel that background has influenced your art?
My background in social work has helped to be exposed to social issues. While this is usually in the more traditional aspect, it helps me to creatively explore possibilities in projects and connect with non-traditional venues for exhibition. Lots of my projects are done in partnership with non-profits and my background helps me to speak that language.
What advice would you have for any artists that are interested in tackling the task of bringing to light certain social issues with their work?
For me being genuinely interested in people’s lives is very important. There are all kinds of ethical issues to be aware of when working on projects and I think it is important to discuss these regularly with participants and advocates. I really like partnering with organizations that are doing grass roots level work on whatever issue I am exploring. That connection can make a big difference while working on the project and after.
Competitive Food Eaters | New York, New York | 3-Person Household | Holds records for eating most burritos, cannolis, buffet food, green beans, sushi, pancakes, ramen noodles, tamales, tiramisu and sweet corn.
To see more of this series visit markmenjivar.com
If you are interested in more information concerning food issues please visit the following sites:
Menjivar’s preferred article on food concerns: click here