Maisie Cousins' deliciously disturbing food photography

An in-your-face, super-saturated vernacular has quickly become 26-year-old photographer Maisie Cousins' call...

Posted: Nov 26, 2018 3:56 PM
Updated: Nov 26, 2018 3:56 PM

An in-your-face, super-saturated vernacular has quickly become 26-year-old photographer Maisie Cousins' calling card. Her zoomed-in constructed compositions of mostly flowers, food and the female body riff on the candy-coated, hyper-sexualized nature of much commercial photography but, on closer inspection, are far from the lifestyle porn they appear to be.

There's always an element of decay that seems uneasy at best, sinister at worst. Shapes and forms hover on the precipice of recognition: cabbage and caviar -- or is that an ear and a vulva? Sure, it all looks amazing, but it's also unsettling. And pretty gross.

Arts and entertainment

Photography

Visual arts

"Truly beautiful images are boring," Cousins said of her attract-to-repel aesthetic over the phone. "A pretty portrait is boring, a lovely landscape, boring. And on the opposite side, shocking ugly photography is also boring. I don't like black-and-white answers. I like the middle because it keeps you looking and thinking. This is where everything is up for discussion, but it doesn't really matter on the answer."

Cousins may have only graduated from Brighton University in England with a bachelor's degree in fine art photography four years ago, but her close-up compositions have already landed her on the Dazed 100 list and won her plenty of attention in the art world. She's exhibited at Tate Britain and Photo London, published a limited-edition book of her collages, "Squeezing One Out," and collaborated with the likes of Bjork.

With almost 70,000 followers on Instagram, Cousins is part of a new generation of image makers, which includes Gucci muse Petra Collins and fellow Londoner Juno Calypso, who are confronting issues of identity and visual culture in the age of the selfie.

Earlier this month, a specially commissioned series of food-focused works, "Dipping Sauce," opened at London's new Elephant West gallery. The show is a mix of wallpaper-style hangings and lightbox images of dumplings, bok choy and noodles -- plus a whole whack of sticky, soppy, difficult-to-identify solids, jellies and sauces, reminiscent of a lush 1970s dinner party. ("Vintage cookbooks are a huge source of visual inspiration," Cousins said. "I find them manic and obsessive.")

One image, bathed in a pink haze, features a floret of cauliflower and half a boiled egg on a plate, covered in goo, summoning the smell of overwrought hors d'oeuvres platters under fluorescent party lights. A film is the centerpiece, starring a seemingly still carpet of cooked shrimp that springs to life as you clock the flies circling and landing on the crustaceans' heads.

"Originally, I was given the loose theme of 'freedom,' " Cousins said. "That got me thinking of the freedoms that I have. I can basically eat whatever I want and even have it ordered to my bed. I don't think this is a particular good or progressive step in humanity, but I am fascinated with consumption and indulgence, so I wanted to explore that."

Cousins also throws a few props into the fray, including a recurring mermaid figurine reclining in pools of glop, and a toy swan paddling through a gelatinous lake amid hills of fried rice. Elsewhere, tiny plastic babies (the kind you can buy by the bags at craft stores) float in greasy pools of orange and red liquid with pink spaghetti and bobbing black olives.

For Cousins, creating and capturing this kind of festering scene is all in a day's work.

"What happens is, when (the food is) all fresh and beautiful, I absolutely hate the pictures I'm taking," Cousins said. "There's maybe an hour of frustration and sighing, then I'll have a cup of tea, maybe even go out or send a risqué text and get some adrenaline going. Then I'll come back and it's magic, it's all congealed, or it's got a fly on it. I think the objects need to go under a change, or a small transformation, to remove it from being too literal." She adds that she regularly shoots at home so as to not "impose this filth on anyone else."

"The best part is putting it all together and letting it fester. With a camera I can get closer than my eye and I find it exciting. There's no other excuse I could use to buy these things and play with them like this. I want to see what that sticky sauce looks like with fancy lighting on it, that's fun."

Hinting at another potential reason for her fascination with including so much food in her work, Cousins admits there might be a kickback: "I'm going to try get away with claiming all my dinner expenses for this year."

"Dipping Sauce" by Maisie Cousins is on at Elephant West in London until December 2.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314710

Reported Deaths: 7254
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21646260
Hinds20369416
Harrison17949309
Rankin13643278
Jackson13450246
Madison10113217
Lee9986174
Jones8384163
Forrest7689152
Lauderdale7198240
Lowndes6403148
Lamar623686
Lafayette6203119
Washington5341134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462998
Panola4596107
Pearl River4519146
Marshall4450103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420872
Monroe4115133
Union411176
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3969110
Hancock379586
Leflore3498125
Sunflower336290
Tate334784
Pike3327105
Scott316274
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311770
Itawamba300577
Copiah297465
Coahoma295579
Simpson295388
Tippah288768
Adams286982
Prentiss280060
Marion269380
Leake268473
Wayne262841
Grenada261587
Covington259881
George248148
Newton246862
Winston227581
Tishomingo227067
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw208057
Holmes189174
Clay185554
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178941
Clarke178080
Calhoun170932
Yalobusha164638
Smith162534
Walthall134245
Greene130633
Lawrence128724
Montgomery127142
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton100025
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83923
Quitman81116
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67531
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 537813

Reported Deaths: 11024
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson791691529
Mobile41177808
Madison35002507
Tuscaloosa25871454
Shelby25076249
Montgomery24549591
Baldwin21290309
Lee15946171
Calhoun14556319
Morgan14364280
Etowah13890353
Marshall12262223
Houston10602282
Elmore10115206
Limestone10031151
St. Clair9890245
Cullman9730194
Lauderdale9449243
DeKalb8853188
Talladega8325176
Walker7259277
Autauga6971108
Jackson6830112
Blount6750139
Colbert6317134
Coffee5546119
Dale4869113
Russell444338
Chilton4343113
Franklin426282
Covington4138118
Tallapoosa4040152
Escambia394577
Chambers3581123
Dallas3564153
Clarke351361
Marion3137101
Pike311977
Lawrence302298
Winston275673
Bibb263064
Geneva252577
Marengo249664
Pickens234862
Barbour231956
Hale223677
Butler217869
Fayette212462
Henry189644
Cherokee184345
Randolph182042
Monroe178140
Washington167639
Macon160750
Clay156957
Crenshaw153357
Cleburne149241
Lamar143035
Lowndes139653
Wilcox127430
Bullock123041
Conecuh110629
Coosa108928
Perry107826
Sumter104932
Greene92634
Choctaw61024
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 73°
Columbus
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 71°
Oxford
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 70°
Starkville
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 70°
High pressure will continue to dominate our weather forecast for this weekend. This will keep our area filled with plenty of sunshine. However, there will be some changes next week in our weahter forecast as low pressure brings back some chances for showers and thunderstorms.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather