The food art of Laura Miner, an interview

After I discovered Boston-based artist Laura Miner on Eat Me Daily’s web site, I had to learn more about the artist behind the camera.

Dyatlov Pass Incident, 2008, Laura Miner, photos displayed with artist’s permission.
For art and food lovers, Miner offers a haunting visual and emotional twist on food art. Her close-up photographs of food stills and landscapes ask us to view the act of eating in new and often unsettling ways.


Snowball, 2009, Laura Miner, photos displayed with artist’s permission.

In her 2009 series, Viscid (meaning glutinous/sticky), Miner photographed pre-packaged sweets, like Twinkies and Snowballs that have become lunch box staples for American youth and adults alike.
Twinkie, 2009, Laura Miner, photos displayed with artist’s permission.
Twinkie is a moody photograph. It’s also set in fantasy, one where the yellow snack cake was victimized and left to rot. Straight pins pierce the yellow charred looking flesh; the cream breaks through the skin.


Jelly (1 of 3), 2009, Laura Miner, photos displayed with artist’s permission.

The viewer falls prey to both seduction and disgust when viewing Miner’s mangled snack cake images and her war torn food landscapes. Either way, she stirs unexpected emotions in her photographs.


Blackrain or Nagasaki, 2008, Laura Miner, photos displayed with artist’s permission.

Nedelin Disaster, 2008, Laura Miner, photos displayed with artist’s permission.

A&L: Describe the first photograph or piece of art you made? When was that?


LM: The first photograph I remember taking was in 2002. I was a freshman in high school taking a color photography class at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). We were just taking pictures of things we brought in. I brought a plastic magnolia flower. The classroom didn’t appeal to me as a background, so I photographed the flower inside a blue plastic bag. The photograph is dreamy. The light filtering through the bag makes everything look soft. It’s like a flower underwater. It sounds really dramatic for a first photograph, but my instinct has never been to document reality.

A&L: Who and what have inspired you as an artist?

LM: In the beginning I was definitely channeling my past. I used to make dollhouses out of boxes and shelf tops at my grandma and grandpa’s house. While I played I always wished that I were small enough to fit in the worlds I made. Later, when I started photography, I learned very quickly that I could make worlds that only existed in the photograph. Through that I could express my imagination better than I ever could. David Levinthal was a huge influence. His train set figurines in film noir settings were the exact combination of childhood imagination mixed with darkness that I was going for. Levinthal’s work influenced my set building, love of macro photography, and tendency to use a shallow depth of field.

A&L: When and why did you start photographing food?

LM: I didn’t consciously photograph food until my junior year of college. However, I have been photographing food since I was 15. In one of my first photography classes in high school I photographed cut peaches in black and white. It really repulsed my classmates. This definitely inspired me to use photography as an emotional tool, and food just fell into my work over the years. When I was a junior at Massachusetts College of Art and Design I took a bright and colorful photograph of a raw steak on 70′s era foil wallpaper. My teachers and peers got really excited about the colors and textures in the photograph. I realized how much people could enjoy and hate certain foods, and decided that it would be a good thing to really investigate my relationship to food and photography. That is when I started my Food Landscapes, which included scenes made completely out of food items describing alien landscapes as well as the settings for horrifying real life events.

A&L: What do you think of David Lynch’s food sculpture photos like Clayhead with cheesy turkey and ants? I see some similarity in your food landscapes to his art.

LM: This is really embarrassing, but I have not seen those and could not find them on the Internet. I love David Lynch. I see similar tones in his films as I do in Levinthal’s photographs. Lynch’s films have been a strong influence on my interest in bizarre, sexual, and violent subject matter. I like how he can take something as squeaky clean as suburbia and make it disturbing. My work relates to his in this way. I take something as innocent as Twinkies, and I give them a dark existence.

A&L: Who are your photographic influences?

LM: Like I said earlier David Levinthal and David Lynch were huge influences. Ana Gaskell, Cindy Sherman, and Laurie Simmons also inspire me. Photographers, who make their work by playing and pretending, or staging such acts, really appeal to me. I like to think that I am doing something similar with my work. I also enjoy Uta Barth’s photographs of “backgrounds”. Her work really makes you think about what a photograph is as an object and a plane of existence.

A&L: How do you feel your work compares to your contemporaries?
LM: The kind of work I saw amongst my classmates at Mass Art (photography and other mediums) very often revolved around childhood memories. I think my contemporaries are fixated on understanding their past and the psychology behind it all. I know that I am concerned with the psychology behind food, and I keep returning to my childhood by building imagined environments.

A&L: What other subjects aside from food fascinate you?

LM: Serial killers. Even though I am extremely sensitive to blood and gore, the psychology behind heinous acts is really fascinating to me. In the same realm of interest, some of my food landscapes were based on tragic incidents that happened during the cold war. The Dyatlov Pass Incident and the Nedelin Disaster were my favorites. I am driven to mix food and violence. Maybe this is because I want the viewer to see something they allow into their bodies in a negative context, or as the embodiment of a negative occurrence. However, people also think my work is more beautiful than repulsive. My photographs walk a very thin line.

A&L: What camera(s) do you shoot with or is it project specific?

LM: I use a monorail 4 x 5 camera most of the time, but I have been known to use a digital slr or 35mm. My Food Landscapes, and the Viscid series were done with my 4×5. Currently I am working with 35mm.

A&L: Can you describe your photographic process? How long does it take for you to shoot one of your food landscape or food art images? How do you set-up your food landscapes?

LM: I try to photograph within a few hours because of the delicate nature of the food I use. However, some of the food landscapes sat around for a few days before I photographed them. I would plan out to a very small degree which food I would use. I always found something that appealed to me and bought it, and used it whenever I needed it.
On a table, with some plastic wrap and whatever I could get a hold of to prop it all up, I placed down some food, looked through the camera, and added more as I felt fit. From there the landscapes formed. Mold found its way into some of my work, but unfortunately the food began to stink faster than it molded. I also froze some of the food. It was important for images like Dyatlov Pass Incident to appear as cold as the Ural Mountains. Images for that section of the series tended to be more planned, less improvisational.

With the Viscid series I had a plan from the beginning about which snack cakes to use and what kind of environment they would be in. I bought a good portion of my supplies at once. It would take me a day to photograph one scene. I spread dirt out on a table, arranged the plastic plants, set down my cake of choice and start thinking about what I could do to accentuate its properties and appear ravaged. Then I would set up my camera, and explore the terrain, find the best angles, and dramatic lighting.

A&L: What’s next?

LM: I want to make more sculptures in conjunction with my photography. I have been working with epoxy resin and snack cakes so far. It would be great to go further with that. Otherwise, I think I’m going to stay on the sweeter end of the food spectrum with my subject matter.
To contact Miner or to discover more of her work, check out her web site.
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Comments

  1. Oh, Nikki, I cannot thank you enough for your invaluable advice and the link to the WOR couple's site. I've been playing with a gray card and white napkin, so hopefully something changes soon. I have to find a place with loads of natural light!

    That said..speaking of the topic at hand, what a fantastic interview!! More great advice and perspectives from an artist of a photographer. Nicely done in snagging the interview!

  2. Interesting and yes, disturbing. Reminds me a bit of some of David Lynch's photo work:

    http://www.thecityofabsurdity.com/photos/clayhead3.html

    eek.

  3. Denise | Chez Danisse says:

    Both intriguing and creepy–not at all surprising from an artist interested in serial killers, epoxy resin, and snack cakes. Thanks for sharing your interview.

  4. Jennifer Carden says:

    Very interesting work. You may like my husbands food art, http://www.matthewcarden.com

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