Is it ever a good idea to peek under the bun that covers a fast-food hamburger? Chances are you don’t need to see the cooked-up pink slime washed in ammonium hydroxide you’re about to devour. And it’s an even better idea to swallow the chicken nugget whole so as not to examine the “all white” chicken parts blended with unknown fillers.
For almost a decade, photographer Jon Feinstein has paid close attention to all things fast food, documenting piles of burgers, nuggets, pizzas, and other delicacies for a series he titled “Fast Food.”
Even after all this time, he still craves a spicy chicken sandwich now and then, a paradox he shares with those who have viewed his images. “I remember at the opening many gallery-goers responding that while their initial reaction was to be repulsed, something about the images also made them hungry,” Feinstein wrote via email.
He began playing around with fast food in 2003 while studying at Bard College. He continued the project from 2007–2008 while living in New York City, and he restarted it after moving to Seattle only a few months ago.
Feinstein rarely spends more than an hour making each image, so the food is still warm during his shoots. He makes the images by placing each item on a scanner noting that some of it appears to be moldy, the result of condensation. (“The scanner got messy, but Windex worked wonders!” he said.)
“It felt like the process of placing the food onto a scanner gave the food a strange, specimen-like quality that could not be achieved in the same way if I were photographing it with a camera,” Feinstein said.
The title of each image reflects the fat grams in each piece of food. “The project is a typology of food from a range of restaurants, so including the grams serves as a kind of pseudo-scientific method of organizing or standardizing them,” he explained.
Although, as a curator, he has often advised photographers and artists to maintain a clear beginning, middle, and end to a project, Feinstein said he sees “Fast Food” as open-ended. “I’m interested in creating work that is less clear-cut, with variables that can be pulled in and out at different times, allowing it to take on new meaning at different times in my life,” he said.
Or, maybe, like the fast-food images he creates, it’s all really about a craving. “When I first launched the project years ago, I noticed a lot of activity on Twitter to the effect of ‘This project will make you never want to eat a Whopper again,’ and unfortunately I don’t think that’s as true as it should be,” he said. “Despite the rather disgusting quality of many of these images, there is still an allure.”