‘I like to watch people eat’: photographer on the over-the-top food imagery in her debut solo show
- Photographer Jennifer Tang Wing-lam’s debut exhibition at Soho House’s public gallery in Hong Kong is an expression of the joys of eating without guilt
- Her images feature ‘messy’ foods like jelly and pomegranate, styled by food designer Alison Tan – and plus-size model Lezlie Chan as a cyberpunk 1950s housewife
“We had a lot of crazy ideas, but we were worried that they wouldn’t be edible,” says Jennifer Tang Wing-lam, a 26-year-old professional fashion and product photographer.
She is referring to a surreal arrangement of shiny “desserts” on cake stands, such as instant noodles, cocktail sausages and rounds of pineapple suspended in clear jelly, which feature alongside a more conventional ruby-coloured pudding in a coupe glass.
It is one of the many shots that feature in Tang’s debut photography exhibition, “Feed Me”, which opens at the public gallery space on the ground floor of private members’ club Soho House Hong Kong, on Hong Kong Island, this month.
On November 4, guests attending the launch party will be able to see – and perhaps taste – for themselves the rather odd jelly sculptures that were created for one of the sets by food designer Alison Tan, who created all the foods seen in the series of images.
That includes the divisive spicy Korean ramen jelly cake, which is cosseted by lettuce leaves and topped off with devilled eggs. The concept was inspired by the odd dinner party trends of the mid-20th century.
Another image set came from Tang’s love of birthday cakes and sugary maraschino cherries.
“There’s a visual contrast between the cake and the person,” she says. “We have this really tough looking boy that has this soft spot for sweet stuff. That’s why he has a little face tattoo of ‘sugar’ on his cheek and he’s just going [wild] on the cake, with the whipped cream and sprinkles.”
What Tang wants to do is encapsulate pure, unadulterated joy in her images – the visceral thrill of being a glutton, eating without guilt.
“It’s not really a story that I want to bring to people. It’s more like the emotion,” she says. “I want people to feel when they see my photos because for me, I don’t like things that are too nice and clean.”
It is why some images are more provocative, like a set where Tan herself appears as a socialite-slash-dominatrix weighed down with pearls and precious stones, sucking on a whole raw octopus.
“When I think of crazy eating, I remember that scene in [the South Korean thriller] Old Boy where he just swallows the whole octopus,” says Tang.
The seed of the idea for “Feed Me” really came from a seed – of a pomegranate, that is, which features in the most austere of all the images. Inspired by Tang’s favourite film, The Colour of Pomegranates, a woman wearing lace tears into pomegranate fruit with a passion.
“I’ve been watching [US television show] Hannibal a lot and I’m very inspired by the image of this innocent person with an ‘eat your heart out’ kind of vibe. We had three pomegranates on set and she was like a human juicer,” she laughs.
“I’ve had this idea for about two years,” she continues, explaining how the image came into her head after she found herself eating pomegranate at home with equally shameless abandon.
“Our faces were so dirty. Everything was stained, like our table, our hands. And I’m like, OK, maybe I should do a photo shoot of someone just smudging food on their face and just making a mess and just having fun.”
“I like to watch people eat,” she confesses. “It’s a weird thing that I kind of have to admit, but the emotion of people and the joy when they put really nice food in their mouth and then you get that smile.
“That’s something that really fascinates me.”
Feed Me is on at G/F, Soho House Hong Kong, 33 Des Voeux Road West, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong from 4-14 November
Do not miss the final days of Ville Gourmand (Gourmet City) by Hong Kong-based artist Chongling, who presents a whimsical series of food and transport paintings at the art tu: gallery on Wyndham Street in Central, on Hong Kong Island.
Some pairings are more direct than others, such as the city’s signature red junk boat coasting through a bowl of sampan congee (a fisherman staple consisting of rice porridge with ingredients such as cuttlefish, shrimp and fish). Chongling’s humorous and instantly recognisable depictions will resonate with the people of the city.
Ville Gourmand (Gourmet City) is on until 6 November at Wyndham Social, G/F, 33 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong