Emma Ressel (b. Bar Harbor, Maine) is a Brooklyn-based fine-art photographer who creates surreal still life photographs of food. Her photographs are surprising compositions that challenge pure aesthetic pleasure and are unafraid to depict rot, nonsensical combinations of ingredients, and a vague, undefined story.
Ressel recently had a solo show at Woods Gallery at Bard College, and her work has been exhibited in numerous group shows in galleries including Red Hook Labs, Brooklyn NY; September Gallery, Hudson NY; Godine Gallery, Boston, MA; Site: Brooklyn, Brooklyn NY; The Wing DC and The Wing Soho; The Bakery Collective, Portland ME; The Church Troy, Troy NY; Artemis Gallery, Northeast Harbor ME; among others. She will participate in a three person show at The Vermont Center for Photography in 2019.
Ressel’s first monograph, Olives in the street, was published by Edizione del bradipo in 2017. A second edition was released in 2018. Ressel received a BA in Photography from Bard College in 2016, where she was awarded the Photography Advisory Board Scholarship, the Photography Senior Project Prize, and the Bard LugoLand Residency Prize, which afforded her the opportunity to travel to Italy and create her first monograph. She was also a semifinalist in The Print Center’s 92nd Annual International Competition. Ressel’s work is in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Trouble in the Garden
A central question I hold at the core of this project – what type of fruit did Eve eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? – is delightfully unanswerable. Some people say an apple, others say a fig or pomegranate, and I’ve heard a few say a psychedelic mushroom. Maybe every food in the world, not just a red fruit, is saturated with the weight of metaphor and cultural significance. Accordingly, each ingredient I place in front of the camera tells a dramatic story. I like for viewers to create their own narratives from what they see before them – I hope that what for some reads as fear or disgust, for others is joy and beauty.
In myths and fairy tales, foods are animated and often treated as a bridge between the human world, nature, and the gods. My practice of building the still lifes outside a studio setting allows iconography from the immediate world around me to greatly inform the work, creating the sense that everything is familiar yet uncanny. Once I collect ingredients and props, I find the perfect setting to build the tableaus. In summer 2018, for instance, I grew a garden on my Brooklyn rooftop and situated the still lifes within the vegetation, making photographs where stalks of kale stood in for trees and mulch for the forest floor. My process frequently feels like constructing a shrine, though when I turn on the bright spotlights, it can often look more like the scene of a crime. Some images might feel like a precursory moment to some strange event, while others may look like the aftermath of an unspeakable incident.
Different foods affect my body like medicines, drugs, and poisons, and so for me, food has always been an awe inspiring, heightened experience. I know I am not alone in this, and I intend for the foods I feature to catalyze vastly different responses from different viewers. I am firm in my belief that food is capable of signifying a spectrum of ecstatic pleasure, longing, repulsion, and pain.
To view more of Emma Ressel’s work please visit her website.