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What The World Eats, By Peter Menzel

2267 words - 9 pages

Four people sit kneeling around a small table in a small room laden with food. A room where a serious man in a black box holds out a can of something altered and edible, and a young girl perched near her mother clutches a bag of potato chips to her chest as if claiming it as solely her own. This is the scene depicted in a photograph of the Ukita family in Kodaira City, Japan as part of a series taken by Peter Menzel for the book “What the World Eats”. This series of photographs illustrates not only what people eat in different parts of the world, but also how their families, and lives as fellow humans can so closely resemble our own.
The Ukita family is kneeling around a small table in a small room. The extent of the food they’ve purchased over the past week is arranged around this tiny living area. The space is somewhat cramped as they attempt to arrange themselves comfortably, and Mio Ukita, the eldest daughter of the family finds herself squeezed into the far right corner of the room next to a red tray of plastic wrapped cakes. A television no one’s thought to turn off blares brightly in the room as a processed food commercial beams to life and an actor holds out the heralded food item as if sternly urging the audience to simply reach out and take it. The screen is paused at this moment as it’s determined to be the perfect image to make the scene complete, and the Ukita’s youngest daughter, Maya, reaches out for a bag of her favorite potato chips. She clutches the bag to her chest as she maneuvers her way back to perch on a red cushion near her mother. Everyone looks up at something only they can see, and from that spot a bright light flashes, and a photograph is taken (D’Aluisio & Menzel, 2008, p.94).
The first thing we might look to in this photograph is not the content, but rather the way the content is arranged. This is a large part of the way the image clearly communicates its story to the viewer, and uses the rhetorical appeals of logos, ethos, and pathos. For example, although we typically expect the camera to be tilted for effect, in this image the artist has also tilted the things the camera sees in that the food around the room and all four family members’ bodies are angled diagonally. In a photograph, diagonal lines can give the impression of movement, action, and fluidity to an otherwise static image, whereas vertical lines communicate a seemingly opposite sense of rigidity, solidarity, and strength (Shapes and lines, n.d., para 4-5). Peter Menzel’s use of both vertical and diagonal lines in this photograph are possibly a way of enforcing the unity within the Ukita family, while also making the image more alive, and as a result much more interesting to look at. The photograph also has very little unused space as all four of the Ukitas fill the top corners of the picture, and almost the entire rest of the image is made up of the food. There is even a fifth human element in the form of the man on the television screen who has...

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