Welcome to 2023, folks! I know we’re officially in January, but I want to turn back the clock for a moment to talk about a time of the year that holds a very special place in my heart: New Year’s Eve.
I associate a lot with New Year’s Eve. Celebratory food, joyful moments with friends and family, the optimism and energy that comes with anticipating a fresh start, my wedding anniversary. But one of my fondest associations has nothing to do with food or grand celebrations. It’s the time I spent as a child cozying up on my sofa, often next to my dad, watching the annual Twilight Zone marathon.
I realize that watching a show from the 1960s may seem like a mundane memory to keep close to my heart, but it was a meaningful tradition with family, and one that I can actually attribute to my educational and career trajectory. The show got under my skin at a young age; in particular, the themes relating to the human condition, and the way it explored bigotry, racism, and other social justice topics through the vehicle of science fiction on screen. It sparked for me a lifelong love of storytelling. And while it certainly isn’t the only influence that led me to eventually study how people communicate ideas—including film and documentary—it is without a doubt one of them.
These days, I work at the intersection of food, equity, and design, but listening to and sharing stories is very much an integral part of my work. Storytelling and food go hand-in-hand. I believe that food itself is a form of storytelling. It’s one way we share individual, family, community, and collective stories and history; we see this in the culinary traditions and rituals we share with community and pass on from our elders to our children, in the stories behind the recipes we read on blogs and in cookbooks, and in the foods and ingredients we choose to cook with—or in some cases, long to cook with but don’t have access to—and what those say about our history and who we are.
And then of course, we also share stories about food through many different mediums—oral storytelling, written word, movement, photography, illustration, and video, to name a few. Needless to say, there are so many forms of storytelling to explore as it relates to this field we work in.
So I’m going to call this month’s issue a first installment—Part 1—where we will dig a little deeper into visual storytelling, specifically. I am thrilled to be joined by Nicole Morrison, commercial food, product and lifestyle photographer, as she shares her vibrant and joyful photography, as well as how she explores food justice and sustainability through her imagery. Enjoy!
Some thoughts on
Happy new year, and thank you for joining for this month’s interview, Nicole! Can you share with our readers a bit about who you are, what you do, and what brought you to your work?
In conversation with...
Thanks for having me! I’m a commercial food, product and lifestyle photographer. I was a wedding and family photographer for eight years, and my background is in photojournalism, so I’ve tried many different things that have led me to what I’m doing now. I love color, food and a touch of surrealism. I was drawn towards commercial photography because I was craving control, creativity and color. I much prefer working with a team and all being focused on the same goal, figuring out together how to communicate something visually.
I’ve got to start off by saying how much I love your photography (and GIFs!). Your work feels so joyful. How would you describe your style? And what do you hope to inspire through your imagery?
Joy and a sense of humor are so important to me in my work. I would describe my style as colorful, graphic and fun. I love the idea that something I’ve made causes someone to look twice, that’s something I think about a lot. I hope to inspire curiosity and delight, and I love to make people laugh.
What does visual storytelling mean to you, especially as it relates to centering and celebrating the vibrant diversity of cuisines and food cultures in the world?
Visual storytelling is hugely important. We can learn a lot about other cultures through imagery because there is no language barrier. Seeing things not only helps us learn, but it normalizes things. In this country, I’m glad to see more mainstream channels uncentering Whiteness as “normal” and everyone else as “ethnic” or “exotic” and showing a lot more people and foods from around the world. Representation is just part of the work, but it’s important because of how intrinsically we take in visual information. I hope it will lead to a lot more open-minded people. Everyone and their stories, cultures and foods are worthy of being seen.
I know you’re passionate about both food justice and sustainability. How does that inform your photography?
Although my work centers joy and humor, I think it can be a great way to get people to pay attention to something more serious. Last year, I did a personal project about the prevalence of plastic in our food system. One of my favorite images is a table of desserts–at first a variety of colorful jello molds you might like to eat, but on second glance, the jello is full of bottle caps and other everyday plastic waste. So many people told me they did a double take when they saw that image–even more asked me how they could avoid consuming microplastics. I see fear being used as a motivating factor often, especially politically, and while it is effective, I don’t think it’s our greatest tool. People in a state of fear aren’t open-minded, and they usually don’t feel great about their options and/or decisions. I would rather pique someone’s curiosity, leading them to seek further information with an open mind. I think that’s how visually creative people like myself can help people who are working in food justice and sustainability spread important, sometimes upsetting, information without overwhelming people.
Peanut Butter & Jelly Jenga
© Nicole Morrison
Plastic Aspic © Nicole Morrison
You’re also committed to advancing equity in your field. You are a founding contributor to a collective dedicated to supporting BIPOC communities by donating creative visuals and brand services to individuals and small businesses. Can you share more about the collective?
By And For is a collective of BIPOC photographers who donate our photography services to local, BIPOC-owned small businesses. Our goal is to bring more attention and commerce to their businesses through high quality photography. Visuals like photography and design are such valuable tools for communication, and because they take a lot of time, expertise and tools to create, they are often out of reach for individuals and small businesses. As we work with these clients, we also educate them about working with a photographer in general. We want them to understand how things are done and how to be intentional and strategic with the images in their marketing, making the most of any future investments.
Thank you for all you do! Where can folks go if they want to learn more about you and your work?
Compost Awareness © Nicole Morrison
[Image description: Nicole is smiling in a portrait photograph. She is wearing a colorful striped sweater and large, bold earrings. The photo is playfully splashed with green and pink color accents.]
[Image description: In this GIF, a woman is playing Jenga with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut and stacked into a tower like Jenga pieces. She laughs as she removes pieces and the tower falls down. Her clothing matches the food, as she is wearing a purple and light brown sweater. She is standing next to a purple toaster, an open jar of purple jelly, and in front of a purple and white checkerboard backdrop.]
[Image description: In this GIF, a hand is cutting a piece of yellow jello mould from a green cake stand. There are seven jello moulds of different shapes, sizes, and colors in the image. There are plastic bottle caps within the large green and pink jello moulds.]
[Image description: The photograph, taken from an aerial view, includes a variety of partially used foods that can be composted. Those foods include an apple core, a garlic clove, zucchini ends, scallion ends, carrot fronds, half an avocado peel and pit, a banana peel, onion ends, lemon peels, and orange peel, and the end of a jalapeno pepper.]
Every month we'll share a variety of books, articles, podcasts, and other resources on the month's concept and other topics at the intersection of food x equity x design.
What Does It Mean to Decolonize Design? by Anoushka Khandwala (article)
“Decolonization” is a word we’re increasingly hearing at design events, often being used interchangeably with “diversity.” It’s important to emphasize that while the terms are linked, they shouldn’t be confused. Diversity is about bringing more people to the table. Decolonization is about changing the way we think. So what does that mean for design and designers?
pocstock is a diversity stock photography platform that provides high-quality, royalty-free stock photos, videos, and illustrations featuring people of color.
Language, Please (resource)
Language, Please is a free, living resource for journalists and storytellers seeking to thoughtfully cover evolving social, cultural, and identity-related topics.
Ethical Design Network (community)
The Ethical Design Network is a space for digital professionals to help them share, discuss and self-educate about ethical design.
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