NOT LONG AFTER THE TOILET PAPER PANIC, WE ALL STARTED WORRYING ABOUT WHAT WE WERE GOING TO EAT. Which sounds, on the surface, like we had things backward right from the start. It remains to be seen if lockdown will have long-lasting effects on the way we consume things – whether the supply chain and retail have been transformed, and whether what and how we get the things we need will be different in ways that weren’t predictable, or were going to change anyway, just not as quickly.
The first few weeks were very improvisatory, involving furtive trips to the grocery store with masks and gloves, and random tests of various grocery delivery options. Some were already established, others still finding their legs when owners of storefront businesses had to pivot to a new business model. Eventually we settled on a whole range of services, from a major home grocery delivery service we’d used before, to new ones set up by our local Italian deli/bakery, and a business just up the street that, until the lockdown, sold mostly to restaurants. Even beer and coffee was being delivered, courtesy local suppliers, many of them friends.
At work in the lockdown kitchen studio, May 2020.
It wasn’t long before these deliveries became the source of my still life subjects, after I’d shot all the flowers (dead and alive), skulls, scrapbooks, spring foliage and trash I could find. With so little else to think about, groceries became central to our lives within these four walls, so it seemed fitting (to me, at least) that they should be immortalized as they came over the threshold.
Every new box presented a challenge – tableaux or high-key? Portrait lighting or product? Soft light or hard? I hadn’t shot this much still life work in decades, so every session over the course of a busy month was a new technical challenge, and I had to dust off lighting schemes I hadn’t worked with since I had my old studio in Parkdale.
I often had just an hour or two to work with my subjects, not as much because they’d lose their freshness under my studio lights – I’m working with LEDs, so heat from light sources isn’t the issue it used to be – but because they had an appointment with the oven and stove just a few feet away from where I was shooting. On at least a couple of occasions, I’d finish with a subject, wash and chop it, then have it sauteing while I worked with another new setup on the kitchen table.
With all this time to experiment, I had an opportunity to play around with my new pinhole “lens”, and with another new bit of gear acquired during lockdown – a plastic lens off of a Holga camera, fitted with a mount for my mirrorless digital camera. The results, sometimes uneven, were intriguing when they worked – something close to that painterly look I’ve been painfully edging toward for years.