The value of a lecture

Mar 312011
Authors: Samantha Baker

After being surrounded by images of food on billboards and semi-trucks that flood the environment of the America West, artist Jonathan Balustein was fed up.

“I decided to create a parallel vision that depicts the food items as I purchase them, to contradict the vision propagated by the advertising industry,” Blaustein said in an e-mail to the Collegian. “It aims to use food as a symbol of health, wealth and class, as well and mark the way our consumption choices impact global culture and climate change.”

Blaustein’s work, “The Value of a Dollar,” is a series of photographic images that calls attention to the commodity that food has become in today’s society. Each of the 17 subjects on display is the closest equivalent to one dollar’s worth of food.

This ranges from 10 organic blueberries to a double cheeseburger from McDonald’s to fried pigskin, all found in the markets near his home in northern New Mexico. The imagery is shot in the most simplistic photographic conditions to divulge as much as possible from traditional advertising photography.

“Food is glossed up and shown in an almost pornographic manner, and that is a direct cause of the obesity and diabetes epidemics here in the United States,” Blaustein said.

Since its beginnings in 2008, the work has been seen by more than a million people, reaching 127 countries, and was most notably published on the New York Times Lens Blog in 2010. Currently, the work is on display at the Center for Fine Art Photography on North College Avenue. This is the first time the work has been exhibited as a solo show.

“It’s a socio-economic issue that I think is discussed in compelling way,” said Hamidah Glasgow, executive director for the Center for Fine Art Photography.

Glasgow first came across the work when Blaustein submitted an image to a juried group show in 2009. Glasgow said this is when she became so interested in the work and the dialogue behind the imagery. The work has now inspired the Center for Fine Art Photography to have a call for entry for a show in September about imagery that continues this dialogue about the commodification of food.

In addition to the Center for Fine Art Photography hosting the exhibit, the gallery is also sponsoring a number of artists’ lectures, including one by Blaustein. For Glasgow, it the artists’ talk is an additional way to experience the work by engaging in conversation and asking questions.

“I’d like to discuss the various and interconnected political issues embedded in the images, as well as the manner in which it became a global viral sensation,” Balustein said.

Blaustein’s work is on display until April 30th in the North Gallery of the Center for Fine Art Photography. The artist lecture, which includes talks from Magdalena Sole and Andrea Tese, both of who are featured in the main gallery’s show, Human Being, will be held at the Center for Fine Art Photography on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Staff writer Samantha Baker can be reached at

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