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Food & Drink

Barbra Riley’s Surreal Food Porn/Still Life Hybrids

Photo: Courtesy Photos, License: N/A

Courtesy Photos

Riley’s The Mariner Dreams of Ink and Weather, and L’apres Midi d’un Faune No. 0078, respectively

Photo: , License: N/A


There’s a fair share of whimsy that comes through in Barbra Riley’s contemporary photographs recalling Dutch still lifes. Each contains Easter eggs that bring the viewer back to modern-day life: Sharpies, a Samsung Galaxy Note phone, Ipod earbuds. Riley achieves the surreal effect by seamlessly merging backgrounds (Mount St. Helens and Canyon Lake, most recently) with still lifes that have been shot separately. The Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi photography professor spoke about her process in advance of “Epicurean Landscapes,” an exhibit featured at Found art gallery in La Villita, Riley’s SA reps.

When did you start shooting food?

I’m really into food. It sort of happened accidentally. I’m really much more of a landscape photographer. I used to do surreal landscapes where I hand-colored black and white prints with colors that were super real. I was goofing around in the studio with some fake fruit, thinking, ‘I wonder what it would be like to shoot a Dutch still life?’

Is any of it fake?

I shoot a combination of real and fake food. I just start gathering things and building the composition. I have boxes and boxes of fake [foodstuff]. I use them when I build still lifes for my students.

What’s your process like?

The piece we’re using as the postcard for the exhibit, for instance: I used real cheese, a great aged gouda, fake grapes and a iron cast skull made by sculptor Jack Gron. It’s really heavy. I went to HEB, (I’m a cheese lover, admittedly), and picked up one of my favorites—aged gouda. One time I did a photo called Cheesy, and I copied the composition from a real Dutch still life that used these beautiful hunks of cheese. I ate a lot of it and gave some away. A fun thing I do every semester when I teach is I ask my students to bring in one thing: rustic bread, fruit, cheese, and we turn it into a giant still life. We’ll shoot it, then start eating and keep photographing, keep eating … it turns into a party with this constantly changing still life.

When did you start including the random objects?

It started right away when I was … making paintings that looked a little bit like paintings from the 1800s in terms of style, but in watercolor. I started throwing in contemporary items to make them contemporary. A sort of pre-Impressionist style but updated. I didn’t want this to be mistaken for something made from back then. I’ve used a computer, a CD player. I immediately put things from around my house in there, which is exactly what (Dutch painters) did. Some of the objects have symbolic meaning; some have no meaning other than I needed something for that space.

Let’s talk about these backgrounds…

I shot some of the deer at our property in the Hill Country. We bought a place on the east side of Canyon Lake that we make it out to once or two times a month. I shot them in our front yard. I shoot them a lot because you have to have the right light, right positioning. My photographs are very autobiographical. I have a piece that features Mount St. Helens. There’s a root of a tree that was 50 or 60 feet high that was blown down when (the volcano) exploded. There’s very beautiful new growth and landscape, and yet you can see all the fossils of what was there before the volcano erupted. In the foreground is one of my student set-ups done in the classroom; I merged the photos to create that. The trickiest part is matching the light. I want people to think, ‘that’s so weird that she set that up in front of those mountains.’ You can only do it if you have the right light.

What are your thoughts on all the food porn on social media?

I think it’s great. Everything’s changed. I’m fortunate that I’m not a creature of habit. I spent 30 years in darkrooms, and when digital came along I thought ‘oh, my god! This is even better.’

Barbra Riley: Epicurean Landscapes

Free
10am-6pm, Mon-Sat
Found
La Villita, Alamo and Nueva entrance
(210) 224-2484
foundart24.com

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