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Joel Meyerowitz: Bread is the star of my photographs for Expo Milano 2015

Culture / -

Joel Meyerowitz img rif cover
@ Saignon

A simple food which, with its inviting aroma, conjures images of family scenes and the joy of eating together. Bread is the star of the photographs by Joel Meyerowitz that are being exhibited in the Cereals and Tubers Cluster.

For Expo Milano 2015 you are in charge of the photographic exhibition within the Cereals and Tubers Cluster: you’ve built installations out of bread from all over the world. Does this mean that you’re focusing only on food then?
I am focusing on breads, because the Pavilion is dedicated to Cereals and Grains and bread is the first use of these food resources. For this work, the breads actually came from all over Italy.
How did you choose the different breads? Did you discover any new ones while working on this project? Did you need to travel far to find them?
Most of the breads were sent to me by Francesca Allamprese Manes Rossi of Il Granaio delle Idee Srl, who I met by chance near Buonconvento and who, once she heard what my work was about, offered her services to find nearly 75 different breads. However I did find a number of local, or private bakers who made their own special kinds of bread just for me for this project.

From a photographic point of view, what aspect fascinated you most about these subjects? The colors, the textures, the shapes?
I had only just begun making Still Lives about two years ago, so when this commission for the Pavilion came up my immediate response was to make photographs of Bread, as if each one was a separate ‘personage,’ and treat them as unique characters. To that end I made a little, corner-like stage for them to act on, and the stage, in a deep gray color, would also serve to carry the dark image of the ovens they were baked in. Following on from that angular space I had the idea to create three-sided columns on which the breads (much bigger than life size) would function somewhat like “totems’ inside the public piazza space of the pavilion. In that way, the repetition of similar forms and colors would be seen as actually being incredibly diverse, just as each region and city has diverse cultures. 

In an interview on your official website you said: "The world continues outside the frame". Is this also valid in the sense that photographs can provoke questions in the viewer on big issues such as food waste and world hunger?
I would hope that the power of imagery today could be effective in helping to demonstrate that problems really exist, and that all of us should be willing to make an effort to ‘read the signs’ that photographs present and make some changes that would benefit mankind. In that sense photographs do exist outside the frame. However, I cannot claim that for my photographs here at Expo Milano 2015. These images show the abundance and diversity that a rich culture like Italy has as a basic, daily reality. This, of course, is not so in most of the other countries in the Pavilions, where scarce resources, or political systems diminish the number of choices.

In mythology grain is often linked to the creation of man. For example, in the sacred texts Popol Vuh of the Maya, man comes from corn, while according to Chinese legend, man comes from "Lord of Millet". Is this ancient truth that links grain to the creation of man reflected in your photographs?
I wish that were the case. I cannot say that these portraits of bread possess any kind of legendary or mythic potential. However, these do have their own history and local tradition baked into the way they look and the functions they serve. There are festive breads for holidays, decorative forms made from flour and water, sweet breads, flat breads, salted and salt free breads, breads that have crossed national boundaries to become part of the borderland breads where traditions, like cultures and language, mix and change and reinvent the basic forms of bread baking. I did try to celebrate the idea of bread being the ‘staff of Life’ by giving each bread a chance to be an individual, and through this I hoped to show the diversity and beauty of this most basic food source.

IPCC: Food is likely to be the main problem of climate change

Sustainability / -

ipcc problema clima cibo
© Bruno Morandi/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis

According to the latest report by the most authoritative panel of climate scientists in the world, the IPCC, the climate change alarm is ringing on the issue of agricultural production. It is a risk that affects all countries, from the Western countries in the south to the smaller island states.

One of the negative consequences of global warming, in the face of an increasing population, will be a decline in food production in the world. The regions most affected will be those where there is already a problem related to food security, creating problems for the work of farmers, fishermen and all people who depend on forest resources for sustenance. It is the contention of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created in 1988 by the United Nations, which this year has updated its report on the causes and consequences of global warming ahead of an international agreement to reach the next conference on climate.
After years of work and research (the earlier publication dates back to 2007), scientists have concluded that, even if nature is trying to resist finding new forms of adaptation, the negative effects of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are already visible and the worst consequences have yet to occur.
The 2,600-page report published in March 2014 contains the word "risk", 230 times, many of them are related to the lack of food and the possibility that conflicts occur due to an increase in people who suffer from hunger. While it is expected that the world population will rise to 9 billion by 2050, food production will decline due to a decrease in yields of farmland, which is already happening for such crops as wheat and corn.
Michael Oppenheimer, a professor at Princeton University and one of the authors of the IPCC report, said that "climate change is acting as a brake. We need to increase the efficiency to meet the demand for food, but instead is decreasing because of global warming."

Will the fishing sector suffer the same fate?  The catch in some areas in the tropical waters will decline by 40, if not 60 percent with serious repercussions on the livelihoods of the populations of dozens of island states that base their power on the "fruits" from the oceans.
The island states are studying plans for controlled migration as a solution to a decrease in the supply of food. In continents like Africa and Asia, however a   land rush is already in place for areas rich in natural resources by multinational companies in the food sector. It is a race that could also be a source of conflict and armed uprisings  in the medium and long term. Faced with a decline in supply and an increase in demand, food prices are bound to rise. An example of what might happen occurred in 2008 and 201,1 following a series of extreme weather events, including the devastating fires in Russia, which had reduced grain stocks, causing panic in the international markets for raw materials and among the importing countries.

Five questions for Oxfam Italia. How to create added value with grain production in Ecuador

Innovation / -

La riscoperta delle antiche coltivazioni parte dalle donne
© Marco Palombi

A steady market for the trade of Andean grain has been opened through farmers’ collaboration. Oxfam Italia, which is developing and valorising the land’s potential, answers our questions about the project.

At Expo Milano 2015, the photo-story displayed in Pavilon Zero will be another opportunity to learn about Oxfam's projects. What message would you like to convey with your approach to the issue of food security?
The approach we are proposing is based on the valorisation of agrobiodiversity and of typical products, from a sustainable development point of view. We are thinking of an alternative model (still possible) of production and consumption, to guarantee food security, to contribute to the safeguarding of the environment and of individual rights as well as preserving the correct management, use and control of natural resources.

What difficulties have you encountered while working on your project? How did you overcome them?
The greatest difficulties were problems related to cultural differences. Our engagement involved various projects for all aspects: we set up a  sensitisation process, which is based on the valorisation of nutritional, cultural and commercial potential of local cultivation; from a technical point of view, sustainable innovations were introduced; in political terms, we have involved partners both in the private and public sectors. Finally, to protect the environment, suitable, resilient seeds were used with agroecological sustainable techniques.

Since the submission date, how has your project developed to date?
We supplied technical assistance to other cantons with the help of the Mama Murucuna association during the project. The Unorcac (Union of Farmer and Indigenous Organisations of Cotacachi) is defining a new management model of the entrepreneurial area, with Andean grains as the flagship product. Politicies are moving with municipal decrees and with a national level quinoa promotion plan.

What are the next steps?
The base organisations are working to bring the project forward independently, to stably guarantee quality products and to create added value. The goal is to broaden the market to position agroecology and the cultural and territorial identity as models of sustainable development. Furthermore, we will work to guarantee political support to these kinds of small farms and reinforce the alliance between rural and urban areas.

Do you intend to replicate the project in other countries or in other contexts?
The program is already expanding into other neighbouring communities. But this work experience, once organised, is very stimulating and can be used in other countries.

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