Dirty Dishes.

Photographs by Ralf Schmerberg.
Hatje Cantz Publishers, Ostfildern, 2005. 216 pp., 180 color illustrations, 6¼x9¾".

It would make sense to wax physical about Ralf Schmerberg applying his burly aesthetic to partially devoured food in Dirty Dishes. After all, every bodily organism operates first and foremost in response to consumption and excretion, and this thick feast of color plates documenting food and all its forms in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas brings a distinct and visceral flush of corporeal decadence with each turn of the page. Confronted with this carnival of sausages, bird heads, fish bodies, disemboweled pineapples and stained linens, it’s hard not to dwell on the raw physicality of each snapshot. But browsed collectively, and allowing time for digestion, Schmerberg’s comprehensive accounting of food preparation, service, eating and aftermath takes on a quiet poetry of forgotten moments, brief satiations, economic striations and touching, if gruff, humanity. This narrative structure is aided by the quick, documentary snaps being organized into categories such as “Preparation,” “First Class,” “Doggie Bags” and so on. As he has done in the past, with subjects such as fashion, Schmerberg gives us a flat reckoning of a process we take for granted, uncovering with his brutal lens a strange pairing of discomfort and unexpected beauty. ZANE FISCHER Read Publisher's Description.

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