Of Produce and Perception

Photograph made from an original hand-built camera.

In "The Society of the Spectacle," Guy Debord describes and critiques a commodity culture dependent, driven and defined by images. In this model, it is the image that is all important, shaping one's perceptions, altering viewpoints and turning all form and experience into mere representations of reality. This body of images, entitled "Of Produce and Perception," address the Spectacle in relation to the processing of information by consumers within such a society. Each photograph depicts an article that any consumer would find in the produce section of their local supermarket. The objects are nothing exotic or special–pears, broccoli, carrots, bananas–banal and common place to say the least. Approaching these images the viewer is readily able to place the item into a particular context, identify it, subsequently name it and then study the formal elements of the print. A scenario such as this is a more than common occurrence when viewing an image, in that judgements are all dependent on the relationship of the viewer to the work. Once one has established their predisposition to the image itself, they then must take into consideration the viewing context and physical relationship to the image object.

Each of these photographs is displayed quite large, 44 x 66 and 44 x 44 inches in dimension. This enlargement of scale brings the quite common and recognizable produce items away from their banality and presents them as more confrontational in stature. As the viewer approaches the image from afar they study their changing relationship with the print as they address it in space. Detail in the surface increases the closer in one perceives the print, and due to the hyper reality of surface information captured in the familiar produce item the viewer is lured in for a chance at intimate scrutiny. Once the audience has reached this point they find themselves in the shadow of the image; it rises high overhead and dwarfs their position in the room, commanding the situation. Seduced by the surface qualities, the viewer has isolated their perspective of the image so closely that the edge of the frame disappears, leaving a field of white in the periphery. The gaze of the viewer is defeated by the banal produce object as it takes charge of the visual exchange–it no longer is a subject and no longer banal, but authoritative in the relationship.

Content such as this could be interpreted from any like enlargement of familiar article, but the specific choice of produce was intended to tie the image back to the source of the subjects via the Spectacle. Entering the supermarket one is met by the produce section, placed in the very front of the store where one can view the entirety of forms in a singular glance. Here the consumer is met by luscious objects accessible to the touch, enhanced by the misting of water and availability of samples. Moving throughout the room, the shopper isolates particular groups of items by focusing their gaze. After a specific type of produce has been selected a ritual of touching, poking, prodding, sniffing and squeezing ensues. In an attempt to select the most appropriate article by analyzing imperfections and making comparisons, the viewer actually enters into a dialogue akin to making an aesthetic judgement based on visual, and physical, observations; and in a sense are seduced by the display of commodified goods.

As one enters an art venue, they are not met with one or two but many images unified by a singular notion. By altering their position in space, viewers isolate subgroups of images–a single wall for instance–which is assumed to have been arranged by some qualified professional of display. The viewer makes another shift of position isolating a set of images, then possibly a singular one. At this point the dialogue ensues between image and audience as the viewer studies the particularities of form, accessing details, caressing and consuming the image by vision–as in the Spectacle sight replaces the need for physical touch.2 The image ceases to a representation of subject and becomes an article to be owned, albeit by vision rather than purchase, due to the environment and culture of images. In both the supermarket and art market, aesthetic judgement is the tool for selection and consumption with choices governed by contextual display.