Photographie et Texte / Copyright Sabine Pigalle© / Toxi-Food in courtesy for Essen
Sabine Pigalle is smiling when she welcomes us in her Paris apartment with a steaming coffee. It’s a cold November morning. After a first sip of American coffee, she tells us that Helmut Newton was, and still is, the one who pushed her towards photography and styling at the expense of literature and Sorbonne.
We met her to talk about Toxi Food, her 2007 photographic project (winner of the Ladurée award), with short culinary digressions about human nature.
We were impressed watching your photographic publications, noticing that you focus a lot on the food theme, even though you are not a food photographer. Especially talking about Toxi Food, which is a still life project that brought you editorial luck and success. In this work you analyse the link there is between feelings and food. How was this project born? What main concept led you to these photographic analyses?
Toxi Food is a project that was born from my desire to overthrow the traditional concept of “You are what you eat”, both used as a commonplace and as a mantra in food science.
I rather analysed the expression “You eat what you are”, a concept that leads us to the area of emotions, mood and personality. In Toxi Food the “dark corner” of feelings is analysed: what is bad and poisonous inside us. I went on with a free association of ideas, using food in a symbolic way, in order to express jealousy, greed. Champignon, a type of mushrooms, is associated to jealousy as they are poisonous. Why did I want to tell about the negative aspects of food and personality?
Well, eating is usually associated to “necessarily” positive aspects: personal wellness, conviviality. I wanted to have fun exploring what is hidden behind this positiveness, focusing on “bad food-related feelings”. I tried to use food as “pictograms”: graphic icons as specific signs of each feeling I studied.
If we leave the conceptual level and consider the formal one, Toxi Food is a photographic project that looks like a recipe book. Would you tell us something more about the construction of the photo? Did you want a cookbook of “bad feelings”?
No, I wouldn’t say that. As I told you, food is being used as an icon. So there’s no culinary “mise en scène”, no kitchen steps. Only the element itself, raw, shot from above. I love it when text and image meet, the text is a part of the photo for me, they interpenetrate.
“Festin Libertin” is another project where I “played” with images and texts, and this is a proper cookbook, where I explore the dark sides of sexuality and their relationship with food.
Ok, let’s leave photography for a moment and focus on food. Do you see it just as a reversal of reality, or also as food?
Actually, my relationship with food as a consumer is much more basic, absolutely nourishing and luxurious. You can say for sure that I’m a “gourmet-gourmande”, taste-centric. I love cooking, but I must confess that my boyfriend is a great cook and he’s much better than me. I tend to prefer eating at home, since I have a real chef with me! If I need to eat out, I prefer to rely on a few selected bistros, I hate those who propose not really fresh food with excessive prices.
Could you suggest us some Parisian bistro where food is safe and genuine?
Sure! I often go to Le Verre Volè, an exceptional “cave-à manger” and Le Baratain. These are bistros that exceed the classical cuisine of French family tradition, providing you dishes of very good quality, where everything is fresh from the market, with creative preparations and a perfect price/quality ratio. A true rarity in Paris.
Good! Thank you for your suggestion! Apart from family and for your pleasure, have you worked with any chef for your photographic explorations? Were they good advisers to you?
Yes, I worked with François Bogard, who is chef at the restaurant Jardin Chaumont, which is located in Southern France on the Loire, a place where the Chaumont Garden Festival is organized. This is an international event focused on artistic research about gardens. Every year international artists create architectural solutions for gardens, never leaving out the link there is between the bucolic atmosphere and the kitchen.
Bogard is also very famous for organizing exclusive dinners for such brands as Hermés. I remember the hand-themed dinner, where everyone created food with their own hands and would later eat it right on the table: a rare example of friendliness, warmth and culinary experimentation.
Speaking about heat and memories: is there any food that have a particular evocative strength for you? To be clear, tell us about your “madeleine”, it could be a dish, a type of food or a brand of food you feel particularly attached to.
Fresh fruit reminds me of my childhood, especially apricots and strawberries. Although I grew in the 70′s, those years were filled with ads and propaganda of industrial food, I never absorbed that type of food culture. Indeed, I must say that I hate it. No, there isn’t any brand I am attached to.
Speaking of the present, what are you working on?
I’m currently working on an exhibition at the Saint Etienne international design biennial, an event that takes place in Lyon. There will also be a path about fooding. I exhibit a video project created with the designer Philippe Di Meo. Philippe has created a collection of particular cooking accessories and utensils that can be both used in the preparation of dishes and in erotic activities. As you can see, once again there is this concept of inversion of reality. Videos are presented as cooking recipes, some short erotic “contes” (stories) where the characters use these objects in a sexual context rather than in the kitchen