An Interview With: Patricia Tobin

Who are you and where did you study?

I’m Patricia Tobin, otherwise called Pattie. Aged 22 and recently graduated from the BA (Hons) Photography course at Nottingham Trent University. 

What is your artist statement for the body of work “SERVING SUGGESTIONS“?

The basis of this work sets out to question what we see in photographs of traditional food photography. The labour that goes into achieving the ideal food photograph is accomplished through arduous styling, with the purpose of generating an appetite for the viewing audience. My intentions are to resist conforming to the traditional methods of food photography by getting the viewer thinking about food, through the images in a non-literal way. Combining objects with food, the series explores the ideas of food puns through photography.

“About looking- about the difference between knowing something and seeing something; the fact that we might know that this is a bit of an orange or a cake, but when we see it taken out of context, photographed in a way we don't normally see, it can look like a Turner” (Grafik and Hurn 2009, p.10)

This particular quote made me think about how to photograph food differently. Photographing food as puns without trying to use actual food was the main incentive for this series; I felt this was a unique way to demonstrate how food photography can work. It works by the audience looking at the photograph, and visually consuming the food that they see in the image; Although the objects in my images are inedible, it’s the careful arranging of objects together to create a visual play on words to mentally construct the said items of food. As Barthes puts it, 

“‘Idea’ cookery, referring to how photographs of food created ‘objects at once near and inaccessible, whose consumption can be perfectly well accomplished simply by looking” (Rosseau, 2000: p.79)

Where do your main influences come from?

For this particular project, it was during my dissertation where I explored how food photography and food ‘in’ photography differs both in technique but also how they communicate. For example, Martin Parr’s series, Real Food, how he uses food to depict class and culture through in his imagery. This was a huge influence, through to Irving Penn’s Still Lifes and Edward Western’s Pepper. This got me thinking in how I could photograph food, but unlike the traditional nature of food photography in making the viewer want to eat, but how I get could the audience to think about the food instead. In terms of how to execute my work, other influences came from Toiletpaper Magazine, The Gourmand, Lazy Mom blog and other general posts I would come across or people would link me to on Instagram.

What was your reasoning for using such vibrant colours?

Well I just absolutely love colour! I already had some big colored sheets of paper laying around from a previous project. So when I was experimenting in the early stages, it just kind of clicked, although the subjects I was playing around with probably didn’t work at the time. The colour excited me and knew it was working, so that’s what I stuck with and continued to pay attention to my subjects afterwards. But aside from it also looking aesthetically pleasing, it also suited the bases for my work because I didn’t want it to look realistic, the vibrancy helped me achieve the synthetic feel I was going for. After all serving suggestions are never actually realistic representations anyway! 

What genre do you consider your work to be?

As a general, Still Life is where I think it sits, but at the same time I think it also is quite commercial too. 

What lighting techniques did you use for these images and how do you think it reflected on the project?

Again the idea behind my lighting was influenced by your standard food photography techniques, as most of them are usually shot outside or by a window to get natural soft light. However, this project is obviously far from natural so I shot some of these in the studio and some in the living room of my old student flat using two LED’s. With this project I tried to gimmick the traditional techniques of commercial food imaging by trying to achieve even lighting onto my subjects. Martin Parr and his high contrast and garish lighting influenced me.

The final images seem like you have spent a lot of time experimenting, how did the project develop through the year?

It was only until the other day actually when I was sorting through my old sketch books that I realised how much the topic of consumerism and food combined interests me! After the completion of my dissertation, I helped out at Nottingham City’s food bank where I also experimented with a few politically weighted ideas but these were not leaving me satisfied or happy. As random as it sounds, I’ve always had this fascination how tomato purée tubes look like toothpaste, so that was the next thing that I worked with. Then I kept experimenting with other ideas, butterfly pasta and bruised bananas which meant they had to wear plasters. Finally, my ideas kept getting stronger, my research got stronger and fell into photographing what are essentially food puns. The hardest part was trying not to think so literally all the time, that’s what I enjoyed most about the work. 

Do you think the project would of worked in Black and White?

That’s a really interesting question actually, as for me a lot of photography is about how the photographer has used colour in their photos, that’s the first thing I see, and then the subject. How the colours are put together are what makes them instantly arresting until you carry on looking and realise what you’re actually looking at. It’s the colour that carries them, and that’s what makes them fun to look at.

How would you like the viewer to feel in response to your work?

I ’d like to hope that the viewer finds them amusing and playful, but it was important as well to have a consistency with the work otherwise it had the danger to feel a bit like a one trick pony sort of thing. During the degree shows we had a lot of friends and family members coming along, many were not creatively minded or photographers themselves, but I really loved that they were able to enjoy and get what my work was trying to do as well. 

What is the best piece of advice you could give the viewers of The Pupil Sphere?

When you’re trying to get inspired, instead of looking at your favourite photographers to inspire you, I think it’s really good to look at things when you’re researching that you find awful too. Then work backwards finding what’s wrong or things you don’t like about the image and what you would do to make the photograph better. Obviously look at the great photographers too otherwise you won’t educate yourself on what’s good. I always find doing this helps me if I’m stuck in a rut! 



Instagram: @patricia_tobin_photo



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