In this edition of Lovesourced, a series examining the passions, stories and dreams behind crowd-funding personal photography projects, Alex Boniface looks at the MEAT America project by Dominic Episcopo, ‘an eye-opening, artery-closing look at the American spirit.’
I don’t want to criticise Dominic’s parent’s techniques, but something tells me that they failed to teach him not to play with his food. However had they not taught him culinary etiquette, we may not have been granted such a humorous and enlightening example of the strengths and opportunities of food photography. I spend some considerable time trawling through Kickstarter each week, looking for examples of photography that I know deserves the attention of our readers; MEAT America is one such example.
Towards the end of the noughties, after the atrocities of 9/11, the heartache brought about by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the financial crisis, many Americans felt the country had lost its way. Riding the moral high of having inaugurated (twice) their first black president, the country proved as willing to embrace change and adapt as ever. But we may also need to explore again its visual language, accepting, embracing and shouting-out the shared, communal, cultural characteristics that make this melting-pot of a nation what it is. Alongside the symbols of Bald Eagles and The Waltons’ and The Simpsons’ vision of family life, we can set photographer Dominic Episcopo’s charming, visual love letter to the symbols of his country – MEAT America.
MEAT America is a visual manifesto. Dominic’s Episcopo’s to conceptualize all of America’s spirit in one image, purely through the medium of meat (MEAT!) is refreshing, inspiring and offers stock photographer’s invaluable insights into the scope of conceptual photography.
Firstly, can you tell us about your background as an image-maker?
Dominic Episcopo: I was always the guy with the camera in high school. I went to University of the Arts in Philadelphia and received my BFA in fine arts. As a young photographer I loved polaroids, old school instant. I worked in SX-70, 4X5 pos/neg and captiva for many years before my dance with meat.
Who are your photographer heroes, and how would you describe your own style?
Dominic Episcopo: My Photo heros are Irving Penn and Weegee, two great NYC photographers. I love Irving Penn for his straight forward studies, the way he renders his subject. No tricks, here it is, but at the same time its gracefulness is magical. Weegee on the other hand also has a bluntness to his to his work, but his images have a sense of humor. Humor is a difficult thing to bring to serious photography,(ha did I just say that). These to photographers have greatly influenced my work and how I approach a subject.
What was the motivation behind this particular project, and what excited you most about it?
Dominic Episcopo: Well, I have always loved meat and was thrilled to be able to finally work with it as my medium. Its a medium that has not been truly realized as an art form. It started with thinking that it looks like geography, the marbling feels like a map. And the idea of meat speaks to so many topics and issues.
You say that ‘America is searching to define its values and trying to uncover the inspiration of what it means to be uniquely ‘American.’ Why do you think the USA has reached such a state of moral confusion? What factors, social, cultural or economic led to it becoming this way?
Dominic Episcopo: I just like to play with my food
You describe Meat America as your manifesto for reinstating a cultural identity. Do you think people may resonate more effectively with a visual proclamation of their beliefs?
Dominic Episcopo: See above
In trying to restore people’s values, Meat America suggests something sad, lost, lonely. However the imagery is uniquely positive with an overt humor. Did you intend for such a distinct contrast in visual and thematic contexts? How do you think this has played out in the finished product?
Dominic Episcopo: Yes, the irony of using Meat to celebrate the American experience makes perfect sense to me. Its unavoidable that its speaks to so many issues from heath, consumption, mass production and animal rights. and there is something big, proud and dumb about it all. My aesthetic tends to be dark,and a bit gothic. But my attitude its much more upbeat and tongue-n-cheek. The contrast works great for me on many levels. I try to keep it fun and simple.
Can you tell us a bit more about how you prepared your shots? (ie the states of steaks!)
Dominic Episcopo: I do sketches and research for every image. Sometimes its fact finding but for most images its figuring out the shape that I want and then finding it. I go to the market with an outline of the shape I’m working with and try to find inspiration the the meat counter. I need to see something in the steak that feels like the subject. The butchers usually think I’m crazy at first but over time I have won them over. After seeing a few of my images they are quick to accommodate any request I have.
We’d like to congratulate you on reaching your funding goal! How did you find the crowd-funding experience? Will you use it again for any forthcoming projects?
Dominic Episcopo: I personally was a bit freaked out by the public funding thing. All and all it was a great experience, but I’m a fairly private person, I don’t live my life through posts on Facebook, so to be so “out there” with the funding and to succeed or fail so publicly was un-nerving for me. But as always, I am impressed or even blown away by peoples generosity and the outpouring of support. Kickstarter really kickstarted an internet buzz that has been great. We went viral and really reached so many people. Without a big company behind you it was really the best way out of the box.