Covid Projects: Bonnie Blake: Breakfast Project
We live in a culture of chronic inattention. With inattention, we miss the meal in front of us, the changing scenery, the open-hearted connection with the world. With mindfulness, we can awaken. ~Jack Kornfield
Bonnie Blake’s series, Breakfast Project contains many elements that I love about photography. First, her project is about time–still lifes of ordinary things seen day after day during a profound year in history. Second, she has created a typology of images that revisit the breakfast table and the daily newspaper over and over with a similar approach, but each day providing some new nugget of information. And thirdly, she is documenting histories serving up the headlines and images that speak to this moment in time. The combined photographs tell the story of the act of sitting down to breakfast, every day, reading the paper and considering the world – a wonderful documentation of life during the pandemic.
Bonnie Blake is a fine art photographer based in Los Angeles with roots in Louisville, Kentucky and New York City. Her formal images of landscapes, urban places and the people and animals that inhabit them reflect her desire to experience their energy. She believes that beauty can be an agent of change and hopes that her photography inspires the concern and action necessary to preserve the gifts of our natural world.
She has a BA in literature from Vanderbilt University, an M.F.A. in Theatre from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She spent many years in the entertainment industry working as a camera assistant and camera operator. She studied still photography with Fran Antmann in New York City as well as in classes at the International Center of Photography and the Los Angeles Center of Photography.
Her work has been shown in group exhibits at the Auburn Gallery and 1650 Gallery in Los Angeles and in the Duncan Miller Online Gallery. She won honorable mention in the 2020 Creative Portrait Exhibit at Los Angeles Center of Photography group show juried by Paul Kopeikin. Her work has also been exhibited in group shows at The Los Angeles Center of Photography. Instagram: @bonniesblake
The “Breakfast Project” is a departure from my customary projects that search for beauty in natural and man made landscapes just as the life I am being forced to lead during the pandemic is a departure from my life as a freelance television camera operator and a still photographer whenever I have time off to explore the world. These still lifes started as a result of a Zoom exercise class with fellow film technicians during lockdown. Our teacher formed a private Facebook group to help us stay motivated. She suggested we post photos of what we were eating so she could monitor our food choices. I started taking quick photos of my breakfast with my iPhone and inevitably there would be a copy of the Los Angeles Times laying next to my meal on the kitchen counter. One day I included a photo of Barack Obama from the paper thinking I could use a dose of inspiration.
I stopped posting these photos to Facebook but I kept taking them every morning. I added more pages of the paper with the food. I chose different plates and and glassware and even dug out the good “china” saved for holidays. I moved the whole operation to a big table on the back porch. I kept using my iPhone and worked quickly but spent more and more time reading the articles.
Newspapers have always been a special part of my life. I learned to read while sitting on my father’s lap as he turned the pages of the Louisville “Courier Journal” and I spent a college semester as a copygirl and and news clerk at “The New York Times”. I now realized everyday that the paper was getting smaller and smaller. Thus my daily photograph also became a tribute to the talent and energy that goes into every story, photograph and headline with the awareness that this physical paper will soon be a relic.
My breakfast photograph became a morning ritual during which I could contemplate and process the loss of human life, community, and economic well being that the pandemic was causing around the world. It helped me confront the issues of systemic racism, injustice and corruption in our country. Everyday the entertainment news and the comics offered some relief from the chaos. I included any references to people I had worked with or favorite places in California.
Rituals as defined by “Google” can give us a sense of control when life gets challenging, help us alleviate grief, and forge a sense of belonging and common identity. Maybe photographing The LA Times and my simple meals helped me to have a sense of belonging in the middle of isolation and uncertainty…it certainly started my day with a sense of purpose and relief.
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