The Many Faces Of Hunger
Although public figures like Michelle Obama are striving to increase awareness about obesity in America, we rarely think about the issue of hunger, which also plagues our backyard.
For the past five years, photographer Michael Nye has been consumed with this issue. His exhibition "About Hunger and Resilience" includes images and audio of 50 people from across the country — either recalling or currently feeling the pangs of real hunger. The exhibition is currently on display at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, and will tour other locations throughout the South. To learn more about Nye's campaign against hunger, see this profile by independent producer Mary Beth Kirchner.
The Picture Show did a brief Q&A with the photographer.
Photographs by Michael Nye
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Picture Show: Have you always been a photographer?
Michael Nye: I practiced law for 10 years before pursuing photography full time. ... My transition from law to photography was gradual. I remember seeing a photography exhibit in Houston, Texas, while I was in law school — photography of Imogen Cunningham and Paul Strand. I walked away very curious and excited about what I saw and felt. This excitement has never subsided. I am self-taught using Ansel Adams' technical books as a guide. ... I took a one-year sabbatical that turned out to be permanent.
What do you seek to cover photographically?
I have worked on many series of photographs in many different places — Siberia, Russia, Iraq after the first Gulf War, refugee camps in Palestine, Chiapas, Mexico and many short conceptual series — places in deserts, water and sky. ...
I think what drives me begins with curiosity. Wanting to know more about aspects of our humanity and our connections to others. I still daydream far too much.
What kind of camera are you using?
I use an 8x10 Deardorff view camera. I make silver gelatin prints in a traditional darkroom with a large Beseler enlarger. The Deardorff large format camera is a beautiful instrument. ... I like the slow process of making a negative. Like winding string into a ball. Not the "decisive moment," but the longer and slower moments. Sometimes my family says I disappear into the darkroom for weeks.
Describe your series on hunger. How did you find the subjects?
Unfortunately, it's very easy to find subjects when considering this topic. ... I was invited by many food banks around the country to visit their facilities. I went to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, religious food pantries, natural disasters, deserts, small towns and large cities. This is an exhibit about reflection. Some people are looking back while others are looking forward. ...I am thankful to all the individuals who allowed us into their lives, and the deep and passionate conversations we had.
What are you hoping to achieve with this series?
Excerpt from the artist's statement:
Hunger is as old as history, and is wrapped into our genes as the great impulse to survive. Everyone knows the boundary between hunger and satisfaction. However, for many of us in this country of abundance, it is difficult to imagine someone so hungry and weak they would cry or lose the desire to live. ...
These stories are about all of us as we live with our uncertainties and the realization that we too could experience hunger.
Listening is another way of seeing. It has been a privilege to have these passionate conversations. It has changed me. I tried to honor each story by being faithful to its spirit and the way it was spoken. Hunger is an issue of human rights. Everyone has the right to be heard, to be listened to, and to receive help when hungry.