FINAL MAJOR PROJECT. WEEK 19.

My Papa’s Honorary Membership of the Society of Master Chefs 1985.
James Bellorini 2020.

The journey of my M.A. and, ultimately, my Final Major Project (FMP) has been underlined by a parallel journey of grief having lost both my father and younger brother last year. And, while that grief is not explicit in the work, it does play out in the conscious and unconscious psychological spaces from which I made it. It’s also a deep part of the subject matter at the core of my project: food and identity.

My Papa was a chef and restaurateur. An Italian immigrant who came to the UK in the 1960s when all things Italian were informing the cafes and street culture of London’s West End, it’s fashion houses, and it’s motor-scooter driving bright young things. He went on to study cooking and, in the 70s and 80s, to manage one of the most successful hotels in the Queens Moat House Hotels chain. Later, he created his own hotels and restaurants in partnership with my Mum, up until they both retired to Italy in the later 1990s.

My brother was more my Papa’s son. They shared a love of cooking, hospitality, scatological humour, and football. Things which I did not adhere so keenly to. My brother also spoke the language better than me and had more of the outward gregarious bonhomie that openly marked him as the son of an Italian. Of course, I had my own Italianate characteristics, but mine, though indelible were in my younger days kept more private.

So its evident that food as subject (photographically and thematically) has a deep personal importance for me and it’s why it became the guiding element for my project Manna – Food, identity, and belonging.

Untitled #19 from The Dog and the Wolf series. Laura Letinsky 2008.

It’s been interesting to reflect on the practitioners I connect with contextually in light of this. More so as I’ve developed Manna. In terms of the subject matter of this post, Laura Letinsky has featured as a creative waypoint for me since seeing her work at the Feast For The Eyes exhibition at The Photographers Gallery in 2019. I’ve discussed her work before (see this post). For me, there is a real psychological power to it. As I’ve gone further into my own epicurean journey I see that it’s because I’ve witnessed so much of what she presents in her images in my own life. They recall so many scenarios in those hotels I grew up in where, in the wake of parties or functions (especially around Christmas or New Year), there would be the midnight detritus of food items, plates, celebrities, and besmirched stragglers waiting for taxis, etc. Where once order and precision reigned on perfectly arranged table-tops, chaos and ‘bacchanale’ had taken over. Celebration. Laughter. Tears. And even anger. While the spirit of food watched on, neutral in itself, but a springboard for all that humanity and emotion.

I’m not saying this is particular to me. We all have incidences of this. But it was the operatic scale of the creation-to-destruction journey available in a restaurant/hotel context that intrigued (and at times frightened) me as a kid. To this day, I guess – though with more adult familiarity now.

Out-take from Manna (from UNEXPECTED PASTORALE sequence). James Bellorini 2020.

There is also another layer to the outcomes of this project work. Something I now see as a kind of healing ‘foil’ in the journey of grief. It comes from the inherent ability food has to bring pleasure and joy. These aspects showed themselves in much of the work, almost as forces of nature. They are celebrated intrinsically in the project. And I’ve come to see that this is a way of honouring my father and brother and their connection to life through the hospitality and love of food that was such a strong element in their characters.

These are very powerful realisations. And, in context with my photographic and artistic practice, deep enough to sustain me in my project work long-term.

And why wouldn’t the subject be able to sustain? It’s food, after all.

REFERENCES AND RESOURCES

Bright, S. 2017. Feast For The Eyes. New York, Aperture.

Laura Letinsky (n.d.), viewed 5th November 2020, <https://lauraletinsky.com/>