It was with some trepidation I approached the Finnish Museum of Photography located in the southwestern part of Helsinki. My dread stemmed from knowing what awaited me inside was the Festival of Political Photography 2017: Post-Food, an exhibition aimed at shedding light on the environmental, ethical and societal ramifications of food. Such an exhibition is bound to contain images of suffering animals and starving children — far from an art event offering some pleasant recreation, that is. Still, that was where I was heading. I figured it would be good for me not to shy away from the harsh reality, but to face it.
The Festival of Political Photography is a three-year project headed by the Finnish Museum of Photography in collaboration with the University of Helsinki. The overall objective of the project is to exhibit and discuss photographs displaying a politically consciousness. Last year it, among other things, resulted in Homeland, an exhibition that highlighted subject matters such as migration and nationality. This year it has included this exhibition on the theme of food.
The Festival of Political Photography 2017: Post-Food is an exhibition that can be described as a book made up of standalone chapters. Excerpts from several photo series, photojournalistic reports and a mixed media art project that deal with food in one way or another are presented side by side. Among the contributors are Asunción Molinos Gordo, Freya Najade, Pablo Ernesto Piovano, Tim Franco, Animalia and Greenpeace. My personal favourites include Jo-Anne McArthur‘s photographs from her series We Animals, Henk Wildschut‘s photographs from his series Food, and Kukka Ranta‘s video featuring photographs from her series Robbed Sea. The first documents animals in the food industry. The second posits that the discourse on food production often is oversimplified and one-sided. The last documents how industrial overfishing led by the EU and China negatively impacts local communities in West Africa. All of them are masterfully executed and the latter two taught me things I didn’t know before.
Overall, all the photographs displayed in Post-Food are good both from a photojournalistic and an aesthetic perspective. They tell stories and provoke thoughts while they at the same time demonstrate a high degree of artistic values. Many are more subtle than expected. Some are very heartrending. None revel in utter gore and grit. Given this, some might say that Post-Food is too sanitized, that it presents a false image of the world since it omits several important aspects of the food complex, such as children slowly dying from famine and animals being butchered in the most gruesome ways. Others might assert that Post-Food has settled on just the right amount of gore and grit to initiate soul-searching and start a conversation, that being more sickening and overtly propagandistic would only result in (more) people refuting the exhibition and thus undermine the scope and goal of the Political Photography Project. Both arguments are valid. Post-Food doesn’t offer full coverage of the environmental, ethical and societal ramifications of food. Some aspects are not represented, and some of the non-represented aspects are among the more harrowing ones, like for example the dog meat industry in China. On the other hand, no exhibition could ever cover everything on a subject. Some things are bound to be left out, and that some of those things are among the more harrowing ones might be a good strategy, given that people tend to block out or even plunge into a polemic with too unpleasant truths — especially if they are shoved down their throats. I think the curators of Post-Food have managed to strike a good balance in this regard.
The Festival of Political Photography 2017: Post-Food is on display at the Finnish Museum of Photography through April 29th. Make sure to catch it if you can. An exhibition like this is good for each and every one of us.