Rebecca Ruetten photographed fast food as social commentary about class divide
She modeled her photographs after Renaissance paintings
Her style was influenced by painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
In this brave, forever-new world of social media, the minutiae of daily life can be documented for public consumption with the tap of a finger.
For many, that includes pictures of what they’re consuming on a daily basis, from their morning latte to their evening glass of wine and every Cronut in between.
Immortalizing food imagery is certainly not a new phenomenon, though the mediums in which to do so have come a long way from canvases to smartphones.
During the Renaissance era, food often appeared in popular works of art by way of still-life paintings, and painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is often heralded for elevating the seemingly simplistic genre with dramatic lighting, angles and imperfections.
Photographer Rebecca Ruetten was inspired by the “eroticism, presentation and charisma” of these paintings by Caravaggio and artists like Luis Melendez, Diego Velazquez and Pieter Claesz, so she decided to approach a distinctly modern phenomenon – fast food – in the Renaissance-era style.
“Fast food is created to attract, but everybody knows the food they order will – in the end – never look like the food in the advertisement’s photo,” Ruetten said.
In her series “Contemporary Pieces,” she theatrically lights meals of Taco Bell, KFC, McDonald’s, Panda Express and donuts, while models pose with hot dogs, marshmallows, ice cream and pizza.
Ruetten sees fast food as a symbol of class divide, much like Caravaggio unconventionally relied on lower classes of Roma people, laborers and even prostitutes to pose for many of his works.
“To eat healthy is expensive,” Ruetten said. “However, one can buy large amounts of food at a fast-food restaurant for a comparatively low price.”
Ruetten said she was inspired by Caraveggio’s atypical models and asked her “punk and hippie” friends with visible tattoos and piercings to take part.
“It underlines the concept that they are ‘children of the modern age,’ having been brought up in the changing America, often defined by the culture of fast food,” Ruetten said.
And in an interesting twist of fate, Ruetten said, most of her subjects avoid the exact type of food they were photographed with.
“To them, the food becomes a non-edible object and loses its value as being considered food,” she said.