Written with Eddie Shumard
The ocean is hushed
by an ashy silence,
settled but unsettled as waves wash over what once was.
Floodlights are more flood than light,
white stones hold their breath under the ocean that long left the boundaries
of an old home,
seeping into communities that once walked on dry land.
Something smells like an urgency of what was,
and yet is still undone,
outdated and yet to be.
Built by men who thought they saw the future before.
Water spits from the ground now,
as children write love letters to their future selves,
rapt in play
imagining how they will tear up the notes they leave later.
We press them into the soil with each step,
blithely churning our hearts
like the water that laps at our feet.
Made heavy with shoes filled
with a wet fear we try to ignore.
We see the model we call home,
wonder if the charts and maps they draw can really be true.
In the future we'll float like a projection
on old sheets stained in the sun,
sorry we stopped wondering,
sad we are left satisfied that we survived.
Its hard to see, she said, the suns sigh seems harsh now,
Fountains of rays fill our eyes so we cant possibly see.
We wont panic
when we find out our shadows are really slow monsters
clawing at our backs.
They say it’s parched for water
but here it’s always wet.
Water washes away our hopes for denial.
We gave up on that soggy ground long ago.
still grow in geysers by the shore,
and we crush them into pesto in the morning.
Seagulls caw loudly, through the window blinds,
excessively reminding us
that we are coastal.
The whole neighborhood is fishing off of railings and balconies. Hauling in what we can get,
hunting and gathering again.
We scoop thick handfuls of seaweed growing on rocks under old piers—
dank and rich and full.
I hear that things used to smell less, and I wonder
how we moved through odorless spaces.
The seaweed goes into buckets and on backs and dried on racks and given as gifts to our neighbors.
Strange to think it’s parched for water other places.
A Dinner with Ocean Views
is served on top of Tower A,
that grand structure built years ago
by men who saw the future.
We constructed a table
out of wood salvaged from the waters—
scaffolding for the construction of a new habitat for us,
the lineage of our past's future victims,
forgotten already before the waters made their way up stairwells,
into children's bedrooms,
into our shoes and our ears.
The marvelous dinner is lit by floodlights—
more flood than light these days—
shining beacon of elapsed and misplaced hospitality.
We hauled in oysters and crabs and mussels
and we will cook everything on the 23rd floor of Submerged Tower A.
We wrote a menu based off of scraps of paper we found—
notes they left us with secrets about bouillabaisse
and smoked cod
and bagna crudo.
We brush our hair with forks
and drape our pale bodies in salted seaweed.
We built chairs out of bricks
which sigh with their histories and cough up river water.
Some of the children salvaged wood from the first floors,
where they say echos of loud laughs still resonate.
The master of ceremonies
begins the evening by pouring scotch into vessels made from shoes,
still wet with fears of a past warning.
We press our hands into the soil to help with the vertigo.
Handprints become coasters and placemats.
We eat mussels in saffron broth and algae and truffles
and prosecco col fondo—"with sediment."
We laugh when the sun glints in our eyes—
clinking glasses that slosh with an eidolic lurch.
Sometimes shadows dance down from the bridges cables,
drawing maps and lines and charts onto the water below.
I feel like every dinner I have these days
has an ocean view.
One foot dangled off the edge
tempting tepid waters with tattered toes.
Too many trips late at night,
toe bashed and bruised from walking dark halls with only floods and not light.
I sit on eve of the 23rd floor
smoosh even my face into clear glass
stating as I lean all my weight onto what I hope is as fragile glass
as was the coastline, or concept thereof.
Every party these days,
on a roof, pointing and charting.
Triangulating where I was and you were going.
How far we are from here or there
or when this or that
finally sunk below the wet horizon.
I just wish you could still hear them laughing from downstairs,
I hear if you listen carefully and the water is calm,
gentle waves pulsing a soft rhythm
against everything from the 8 floor down
you stand with a coupe glass pressed gently against the elevator shaft
just east of her door.
The old woman who sloshes in her husband's old boots
that sigh with every step
a sad I told you so.
you can hear them,
not the boots but the laughter.
the sun tickles my eyelids,
I realize I've been staring at the sun
with my eyes closed for a while now.
I sip scotch from a very lovely Italian leather shoe,
and make my way across tower A's roof
to see if she brought anymore mussels up from the 23rd floor.
You'd be surprised how many people have saffron in their cupboards.
Little jars filled with the deep hued hand picked flowers naughty bits,
resting untouched on dank shelves in kitchens long left empty.
Since our cities long since been reinhabited by bivalves and crustaceans,
we slip between Avenue's
stealing the things
sent to clean up our mess
on the sides of sunken towers.
My shoes empty,
and she's combing her hair with a fork again.
maybe someone down on 23 has more of that col fondo...
Exhibited at Feast for your Eyes at The Photographers Gallery, London, 2019.
Concept by Louise Haggar and Allie Wist. Words by Allie Wist, photographs by Louise Haggar, food styling by Michelle Gatton, and set design by Alexander Breeze.
Consumption has often lent itself towards conspicuousness. A reversal from an act which assimilates a substance inward, to one which projects the substance back outward. Eating becomes a culture and class exoskeleton of what is otherwise a biological process, one through which we simply gain “nourishment.” Of course, eating has moved much beyond its necessary function, and has perhaps always been, at least in part, a cultural act for humans. Eating is the first way that we physically consume emotion and meaning—it is our earliest method for accessing the stories of our ancestors (and of learning new stories about our futures). Recipes hold within them deep undercurrents of who we are and who we hope to be. To nourish others is to assume this responsibility—to build access to the histories, ecologies, and futures embedded within food. Nourishment can be seen as a way to render accessible the many threads of meaning held within a mother’s humble bowl of congee, or encased beneath the cellophane of a ceremonial gift basket. When we create ritual and tradition around food, we unfold deep lineages and connections spanning time and space.
Many of the dishes that we hold dear are not meant to be beautiful nor conspicuous, and meals which truly feed and sustain us will not necessarily pander to the glamorous aesthetics proliferated in visual culture. To value food only for its ability to win our eyes does not truly respect the act of consumption as a fundamentally ancient, sensory and ritualized act.
This series of photographs offers a riposte to the hyper-consumption of visual food which has come to dominate our cultural appetite. A collection of foods which are comforting, nostalgic, and intimately tied to Earth—foods that nourish us and support the future of our planet, foods which lie beyond their value as images. They are imperfect, unglamorous, deeply meaningful objects, which bridge the gap between our bodies and our values. The images recreate food altars and food traditions we learned from our families; we foment new ones to reflect values of environmental responsibility, waste reduction, and sustainability. Can we learn to cherish potable water as much as any other time-worn symbol of prosperity? Can we assert a ceremonial reverence for preserved and foraged foods? Nourishing others will always be seated within history and culture, and as we pay homage to nostalgic traditions, we may also watch our eating rituals evolve into new habits, which serve to acknowledge our ancestors, our bodies, and our planet.
Gifts that we ingest impart both the sentiment from the giver, as well as nourishment to our bodies. In leiu of prioritizing only the most aesthetically appealing fruits in a ceremonial gift basket, we look to celebrate foods that might otherwise go to waste, embedding an environmental awareness into this act of love.
Humans have been eating bone marrow since prehistoric times, and using bones to make stock or broth dates to at least the second century BC in China, making it one of our most ancient nourishing foods.
Concept: Louise Hagger & Allie Wist
Text: Allie Wist
Photography: Louise Hagger
Food Styling: Michelle Gatton
Set Design & Prop Styling: Alexander Breeze
Photo Assistant: Sam Reeves
This work documents the relationships of power as manifested in the production of soda in contemporary Colombia, and explores a broad confluence of factors affecting soda production and consumption, including socioeconomics, politics, and culture. The work revealed many levels of extremities as well as ambivalence that relate to soda consumption, and the soda bottle itself became as an artifact of power dynamics in the contemporary landscape. (Images continued below images.)
Funded by the Tinker Foundation and NYU's Center for Latin American Studies
Soda + Power reveals the various power relationships I encountered as I followed the raw materials utilized to make soda in Colombia through to the finished product’s consumption. Two major inputs into soda—sugar and water—reveal both historic and contemporary power struggles over valuable resources. Sugar production for soda companies is linked to a long and often fraught history in Colombia, as is the case in many sugar producing regions.
I photographed sugar cane production in Valle de Cauca at one of the country's largest sugar cane farms, which also supplies soda companies with sugar. Water, on the other hand, is linked to more contemporary issues, and can be a contested natural resource in parts of Colombia. Coca-Cola in particular has been accused by locals of natural resource exploitation at the expense of communities. I visited two in particular: the mountainous town of Chingaza, and Tocancipá, a town outside Bogotá, where a new Coca-Cola plant will use 68% of the entire municipality’s water.
Some of the most pressing power issues related to soda in Colombia are those of labor rights injustices and anti-union violence. While land rights and human rights issues have been associated with soda companies globally, these have particularly acute manifestations in Colombia. The Coca-Cola-owned bottling plants in Colombia have been accused of hiring illegal militia and paramilitary groups to intimidate, torture, and incite violence against union workers. According to Sinitrial, a labor rights group, the company uses subcontractors so that workers are unable to unionize, and thus they do not have to fulfill the country’s minimum wage and overtime laws.
Just this past year, Coca-Cola has been accused by Colombian courts of financing terrorism for their ties to the now-disbanded paramilitary organization, United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. (One location of alleged violence was photographed, above.) This image and others aim to show visions of a history of turmoil with Coca-Cola and provide more context to evaluate the place of soda companies abroad.
The country's consideration of a soda tax when I visited in 2016 reveled another power struggle. While public health advocates favor such bills to protect citizens from the health ills associated with consuming high-calorie, sugary sodas, many argued that the economic ramifications for small vendors across the country would be too severe.
People's personal identities and lifestyles were entangled in these dynamics. One woman I interviewed (above) suffered from an addiction to Coca-Cola, for which she had been treated by both medical doctors and acupuncturists. She admitted she felt powerless to stop consuming soda at times.
She has a local bottling company deliver cases of Coca-Cola to her home weekly. Other interviewees, particularly in Cartagena, expressed cravings for sugar, and discussed the difficulty in abstaining from drinking too many sodas. Soda consumption raises issues of sugar addition, and individuals' own autonomy in controlling their diet. Furthermore, in interviews, individual's choices to drink either national brands (like Colombina or Postobón) versus imported brands (like Coca-Cola) seemed to relate to ideas about patriotism and nationalism.
The site of the death of Ricardo Ramon Paublot Gomez, an activist for Coca-Cola worker’s rights who was targeted by the paramilitary. The union alleges that Coca-Cola hired the paramilitary to execute him.
The president of Colombia is considering a soda tax this year, allegedly influenced by a meeting with former NY mayor Bloomberg. Many oppose this tax, citing the fact that many lower income and rural soda vendors will suffer. Globally, soda taxes have been critiqued as a white and Eurocentric demonization of soda consumption, coming from the same countries which economically benefit from soda exports.
Left: Sinitrial union headquarters, the activist organization working to secure worker's rights at Coca-Cola plants in Colombia. Many members have experienced death treats, intimidation, and other scare tactics which they allege are committed by former FARC paramilitary agents hired by Coca-Cola.
Right: A stream from the Chingaza water resource in La Calera mountain towns. Residents are only allowed limited in water usage, but Coca-Cola is able to use water for production of soda, causing a bitter relationship with communities fighting for more potable water.
Left: Soda is shipped via boat to even the most remote islands and rural wetland communities of Colombia’s coastal regions, where it often comes more often than potable water. Soda company employees and vendors are not entitled to unionized workers rights. These extensive distribution networks were set up largely by American soda companies like Coca-Cola.
Right: Sugar cane production on one of the world's largest sugar cane farms—an industry with a deeply intertwined history with slavery and exploitation. Some of this sugar is used to manufacture soda in Colombia.
An upper middle class woman in Bogotá who admits she suffers from an addiction to Coca-Cola light, and she struggles to drink less than three bottles a day. Coca-Cola distributors call her directly and delivery cases of soda to her house every week.
ROADS & KINGDOMS
A legacy of interplay between sweetness and power manifests in the form of the soda bottle on Isla Grande, Colombia. The island with limited access to fresh drinking water, and a high consumption rate of bottled soda, which is delivered more often to the island than potable water. (Text continued below the images.)
Isla Grande is an island off the coast of Colombia, just an hour boat ride from the city of Cartagena, where residents drink unusually large quantities of soda—up to eight a day. The island experiences crushingly hot temperatures—over 100 degrees with 90% humidity in the summer—so the need for adequate hydration is acute. At times, soda replaces fresh drinking water, as potable water is only delivered to Isla Grande by barge (at a price) every 15 days. Residents' access to clean drinking and cooking water is restricted, and as such, it becomes an expensive and somewhat precious commodity. Soda, however, comes with more frequency each week in smaller boats, and is cheaper than bottled water. Many people I spoke with mentioned stomach ailments and tooth decay, and elders on the island expressed a concern for the prevalence of soda (a significant change from their generation).
And yet: locals haven’t encountered high instances of diabetes to date. Many local vendors are thankful for the opportunity to sell soda in their local economy. The Western perception of soda as a pestilence is ignorant to its very real role in not just local food economies, but in local food culture, as a cooking ingredient and nostalgic product.
These images show the nuance and complexity of soda as a replacement for fresh water, and represent a snapshot into what is becoming a widespread phenomenon in the Latin America and beyond.
Funded by the Tinker Foundation and NYU's Center for Latin American Studies
At the Water's Edge
Troy, NY + NYC