Seeing through the lens of Chris King

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‘Food Is…’

Chris King is the man behind ‘Food Is…’, a unique photography project that raises awareness about the solutions to food waste.

His background in being involved in grassroots activities on environmental and social justice issues, along with working and travelling in various countries has given him an urge to do something about injustices around the world.

“I feel food waste is a ‘silver bullet’ of sorts for many of the issues of our time. If you impact positively on food waste, you are impacting on climate change, food and water security, deforestation, the power of biotech firms, and various other critical issues.”

Started over a year ago, his subjects have included The Pig Idea, The Dragon Café, and Dinner Exchange East (See our live blog on their Calypso Dinner Exchange event here).

Brigida, founder of Dinner Exchange East carries some of the food they have gathered from local markets - saving it from the bin
Brigida, founder of Dinner Exchange East carries some of the food they have gathered from local markets – saving it from the bin. © Chris King / Food Is…

If you are expecting to see a series of photos of piles of food thrown out in the bin, you will be surprised.

In his quietly spoken Irish accent, Chris tells me that his aim is to focus on the solutions rather than the issue itself, another reason why many of his pictures revolve around people involved in organisations and initiatives working to reduce the amount of food waste generated by our society.

“It’s hard to generate any sort of emotion within people for a rotten apple. So I felt the need to explore the human element of food waste – the stories of those people trying to reduce the amount of edible food going to waste, and so the project has evolved to document people, their activities, and what motivates them to do what they do.”

In his portraits, people look straight into the lens – directly into the viewer’s eyes. It’s difficult to break away from their gaze.

“I made a conscious decision to put my camera on a tripod and take static portraits with a remote control”. Although he prefers taking dynamic photographs with his camera in his hand, he felt that “exposing the viewer to one action shot after another” was getting repetitious. He wanted to give the viewers a breathing space to reflect, and that is how his current approach came to be.

“It was my first time trying static portraits using a tripod. I still find imposing myself on the people and disrupting what they’re doing difficult. I prefer blending into the scene – after a while they don’t even know I’m there. This technique of stopping and putting my camera on the tripod has forced me to really think about how to represent my subjects”.

Martin, Gleaning Co-ordinator at the Gleaning Network at work in an orchard, gathering apples that would otherwise go to waste
Martin, Gleaning Co-ordinator at the Gleaning Network at work in an orchard, gathering apples that would otherwise go to waste. © Chris King / Food Is…

Photo diary

Unlike many other traditional documentary photography projects where the whole package of photos are showcased once the project has been completed, ‘Food Is…’ is in a photo diary format. This means the viewers can access Chris’ portraits and blog posts as soon as they are generated, and be part of the journey along with Chris as he explores this on-going issue.

“I wanted to have a conversation with people throughout the creation of the work and share this experience”.

Bringing the subjects alive as much as possible is at the heart of ‘Food Is…’, and you’ll find much more than beautiful documentary photography on the website. His blog posts are informative yet personal, and his multimedia work is engaging and thought-provoking.

Gleaners form a human train in order to carry as many crates of gleaned cabbages to the van as possible
Gleaners form a human train in order to carry as many crates of gleaned cabbages to the van as possible. © Chris King / Food Is…

Kit

Chris’ favoured lenses on the scene are two prime lenses (50mm f/1.4, 24mm f/2.8), where focal length is fixed. He prefers them because he feels they are better suited to the dynamic environment he is working in.

“I think zoom lenses add a layer of complexity when trying to compose a shot. I think using them would break my flow, and so I prefer to use prime lenses and use my feet instead. Zoom lenses are more suitable for when you have more time to spend on composition. With Food Is… I need to be over people’s shoulders, working in tight spaces, and responding to the scene as it unfolds.”

He shoots on Nikon D800.

Kent Gleaning Co-ordinator stands in a field of cauliflowers that are being left to rot
Kent Gleaning Co-ordinator stands in a field of cauliflowers that are being left to rot. © Chris King / Food Is…

Future plans

The most memorable organisation for Chris so far has been The Gleaning Network – a project working on a national level, that collects fresh fruit and vegetables from farms across the UK for redistribution to organisations such as FareShare.

“I think, seeing what I’ve seen and based on the limited knowledge I have, the greatest amount of change in the shortest amount of time could happen at the farm level. There are thousands of farm in the UK – many producing tonnes of food waste, while there are tens of millions of consumers who function as individuals – with their own tastes, habits and needs and producing relatively little waste. So when it comes to trying to reduce the amount of edible food needlessly going to waste, why not focus more on those few thousand farms, who likely function in a somewhat similar manner, than on the millions of individuals who each function in their own particular way?”

Inspired by the work of The Gleaning Network, Chris is planning to create a web documentary on the topic of food waste generated on farms in the UK.

To view more of Chris’ work, visit http://www.chriskingphotography.com and http://foodis.org.uk.

All photographs and videos in this post are by Chris King