Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Conversation with Charlie Grosso

Dried Ducks Flying, Guangzhou, China, 2006 © Charlie Grosso

Charlie Grosso's exploration of markets around the continents addresses issues of one of the most fundamental parts of the global food chain. The markets depicted are closer to the sources of food than most Western supermarkets are. For some this vision is very raw and certainly calls to attention the directness in this form of exchange of food.

Beans, Scale, Women and Child, Antigua, Guatemala, 2009 © Charlie Grosso

NP: Tell us a little about yourself.

CG: I am a Chinese American woman with a male Italian name. When people ask me about the Italian name, I like to tell them that I am hiding from my life of crime. That usually makes them smile and pursue no further. I graduated from University of Southern California with a BA in Theater Design. As part of the portfolio for grad school application you had include something other than your design work. I included 10 triptychs of my photography. The photographs were the only things the grad school professors wanted to talk about at my interviews . That was the moment when I took another look at my photography and began to wonder if just maybe...

Once Were, San Gil, Colombia, 2009 © Charlie Grosso

I was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan until the age of 11. I have been living in Los Angeles for the last 20 years and I am currently in transition and moving to New York as we speak. I have traveled quiet a bit in these last 10 years and am always itching to get back out on the road. I really love how when you are traveling in a foreign country, life gets reduced down to the simplest elements and you are more open to new experiences and stranger's generosities.

A Moment, DF, Mexico, 2009 © Charlie Grosso

NP: How did you discover photography?

CG: The summer after high school, I was bored and felt like I was just waiting for the next big thing. Of course in my mind, that would be College and the start of a whole new life. I thought that I should learn something and be productive with my summer. Photography seemed like a good choice since my grandfather has always been an amateur enthusiast and we were always commanded to pose for him as kids. I remember the fist time I looked through the view finder of a Rollie, it felt like falling in love. Now and then, I still get that sense of the thrill when I look through my Hasselblad.

Duckies, Fuli, China, 2006 © Charlie Grosso

Raising Child On Top of a Chicken Cage, Guangzhou, China, 2006 © Charlie Grosso

NP: Where do you find inspiration?

CG: Mostly from random phrases that catches me unexpectedly or images that gets stuck in my head. There would be something about it that sends me spinning and I would deconstruct the idea behind the phrase/image until I figure out how to re-imagine / re-tell the idea in my own way. Stories. I love stories and they send me spinning too. I am really interested in the story that is conveyed / implied by the image. In the end though, I think I tend to make work about personal experiences. Writers are always told to write what they know. I feel like my better work comes from personal experiences that have left their mark on me. In some ways, I feel like a 60's confessional poet retelling personal experiences through images instead of words.

Chilli, Shaping, China, 2007 © Charlie Grosso

Chicken with Bound Feet, Sihamoukville, Cambodia, 2008 © Charlie Grosso

NP: How did this project come about?

CG: I started photographing food markets in Taipei that same summer I began learning photography. Then every summer after, during my visit home, I would go shoot the market. In 2004, I was looking through my negatives and realized that all of sudden I had this body of work on the same theme, often the same place. It was funny to see the same faces over and over again, or how this one elder fish monger would take a nap in the middle of the market in the afternoon and I had pictures of him napping from several different years.

I started to ask myself questions, "why are you shooting this and what is it that is so fascinating about dirty, smelly, food markets?" The more I thought about why I was interested, the more obsessed I became with it. Through this internal dialogue I also saw the bigger picture and how it related to American's dysfunctional relationship with the source of their meal. I wanted to use "Wok the Dog" as a means to start/participate in a conversation about understanding where meat comes from and how each culture relates to what is edible.

A New Manicure, Sihamoukville, Cambodia, 2008 © Charlie Grosso

NP: Can you explain the title, Wok the Dog?

CG:"Wok the Dog" is a pun of course of walk / wok (the traditional Chinese "frying pan") ... in 2004-5 when this project first coalesced I was having conversations about what is acceptable to eat and if we should consume all of its parts. Dog is part of the food culture in China and Korea, just as guinea pigs are in Peru and parts of South America and iguanas are consumed in Nicaragua. All of these are animals that Americans keep as pets and have certain sentimental attachments to. There are people who are outraged at the thought of eating a dog but what they fail to understand is that different cultures have different sentiments towards these animals. A life is a life is a life. I don't believe that there are one kinds of animals life that is more precious than another. If we are consuming flesh then we are consuming life. Part of the objective I had with the title is to bring this idea to the forefront and start a dialogue with it. I also wanted it to be a little funny because its easier to talk about topics that might be sensitive if we can first chuckle a little bit at it. There is only one picture of dog sold as meat in the entire series at the moment, there were 2 at one point but I had to edit one out due to sheer volume. This body of work is not about Dog eating but about our what IS food, how we relate to it and how our perception is formed based on various cultural / social influences. I didn't want too many pictures of dog hanging from hooks to distract from the main objective.
I am sure by now you must be wondering if I am a vegetarian...No, I love meat!

Chickens and a Magazine, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2008 © Charlie Grosso

NP: What's next?

CG: "Wok the Dog" is still an ongoing project. Ultimately I would like to document as food markets in as many countries as possible with the goal of publishing the entire project in a book form in the end. As developing nations attempt to Westernize, I wonder how much longer these traditional markets would be around and what the reactions would be of individual cultures to Western sanitation standards. When I was home in Taipei this past December, my Dad was telling me about how at some markets are staring to ban "killings" in the markets. Which means that there would be no more fresh fish or chicken killed on the spot for the buyers. "Then how will we know the fish or the chicken is fresh?" was my Step-Mom's immediate reply. Progress and evolution adds a new layer of complexity to "Wok the Dog" as an ongoing project and that excites me.
I am also working on another couple of projects dealing with themes that are personal/confessional as well. Namely the concept of "HOME" and the complexity of "Sex."

Thank you Charlie and best of luck on the cross-country move.

Because Wok the Dog is such an extensive project, I have included more than the usual number of images. The formatting of blogger does not allow the panoramas to appear larger on the main page and that is why they are grouped together below. I encourage you to click on them to see them better or to visit Charlie's website to view the whole project.

Spice Isle, Avanos, Turkey, 2007 © Charlie Grosso

Portrait of Waiting, Masaya, Nicaragua, 2009 © Charlie Grosso

Buying Chicken, Guangzhou, China, 2006 © Charlie Grosso

Market, Chichicastenago, Guatemala, 2009 © Charlie Grosso

Leek Search, Beijing, China, 2006 © Charlie Grosso

Down the Stairway, Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, 2009 © Charlie Grosso

Hold My Chicken, Old Dali City, China , 2007 © Charlie Grosso

Heaven? Tokyo, Japan, 2008 © Charlie Grosso

Chicken For Lunch, Taipei, Taiwan , 2006 © Charlie Grosso

How About This One? Old Dali City, China , 2007 © Charlie Grosso

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