Review: The Fragile Feast by Hannah Collins


Book Reviews, Photobooks


We have become more aware of what we eat, as knowledge of the consequences of a bad diet (heart problems, diabetes, etc.) has become more widely known. Knowing what to eat - and what to avoid - often goes hand in hand with trying to find out where and how what we eat (or use to prepare our food) is being produced. Amazingly enough, I only know of very little photography about this aspect of our lives. Obesity and/or consumption are obvious targets for photographers, but many (most?) other aspects of our food chain are not very often to be found in photographs. (more)

The Fragile Feast by Hannah Collins (also see the project page) looks into how many of the raw ingredients used by elBulli restaurant were produced, all the way from the sources in countries all over the world to the kitchen, with its final dishes. You get to see where, for example, roses are grown in Ecuador, how they are being processed and how they then are turned into food. A brief text gives the reader information about the different aspects.

As an aside, proponents of local food might find problems with some - but not all - of the ingredients shown in the book. What is more, many of the dishes in the book are quite highfalutin. I caution against letting these quibbles get in the way of enjoying the book, though. My interest in, for example, “Sea Anemone with Rabbit Brain and Dill, Roses and Oysters” is non-existing (plus, I’m not sure the rabbits appreciate their brains being used for food). But I do think it’s extremely important to be aware of where one’s food is coming from; and The Fragile Feast certainly shows you an aspect of our food chain that you normally don’t get to see. On top of that, many of the ingredients (pumpkin, pistachios, honey - to name a few) find use in more ordinary dishes.

Another interesting aspect of the book is how the photographer managed to visually connect the elBulli dishes with not only the ingredients but also their origins. Food photography tends to have its very own look, but in this book there never is a visual jump form a landscape that might have some trees in it to the hands of a chef preparing something to the final dish. All of these photographs have a quiet, understated beauty - which I find very appropriate for food.

Food after all, should be something we enjoy eating. Having a delicious meal on the table (ideally in the company of family and/or close friends) is one of the underrated pleasures in our lives - something that can be had more easily than many people would imagine. The Fragile Feast brings this aspect of food closer to us. It makes us look at what we eat and where what we eat is coming from.

The Fragile Feast, photographs by Hanna Collins, texts (incl. recipes) by Ferran AdriĆ , Hannah Collins, 328 pages, Hatje Cantz, 2011