My grandpa was a smoking man. Marlboro Reds in a box. Cowboy Killers. He smoked them hard; each deep drag purposeful. The cigarettes kept him even. Pushed down his feelings and created a shield between him and what he didn’t know. A cigarette always dangled from his lips. I marveled at how long the ash would grow before he casually tapped it off. His overworked nicotine stained fingers and the smoke that curled up around his guarded blue eyes etched a fond patina into my heart.
The strong smoking man is a relic. A rugged form of masculinity from another era. We no longer look at smoking as we used to. Now we see smokers as weak, their habit as offensive, the protective armor it may provide a shameful and antiquated affectation. A more with-it man leans on healthier props.
I notice men smoking on the street. Most of them are marginalized in one form or another: homelessness, addiction, mental illness, or perhaps just set in their ways. I reach out to see if they’re willing to let me immortalize them in all their smokin’ glory. There’s rarely a man who says no. Each embodies his portrait with a bygone sense of swagger. After the short and satisfying interchange, the essence of each dude lingers like the traces of tobacco on a well-worn sweater.
‑ Cat Gwynn
Dr. Russell Smith
HUNGRY: The Insatiable State of America
What’s in your wallet? Have it your way. Taste it all. Think about less and enjoy more. Live Richly. The future takes Visa.
But what kind of future will we have if we don’t take responsibility?
Bombarded with messages by society and the media priming us to look outside of ourselves to find happiness, telling us To Consume, that More is Better, we mindlessly buy into the calculated promotion of selling our cravings beyond our needs. As a result, we’ve evolved into a ravenous nation obsessed with idealized perfection, aching to consume to fill our emptiness, stuffing ourselves to bind our insecurities, and ultimately living beyond our means in search for meaning.
But what is truly meaningful?
Every single one of us has wants and desires, and we all face feelings that we are not good enough, that we must change and improve. So we strive to lose weight, gain approval, exert control, request redemption… Then, tyrannized by an overload of choices and exhausted by misconceived “shoulds”, we conveniently settle for a numbing state of conformity. Bewildered and dissatisfied, we run from our responsibilities, medicate our fears, depend on someone else for the answers, and hope and pray that something bigger than ourselves will ultimately save us.
But who will save us?
Serving up ironic observations coupled with incisive societal insights, HUNGRY: The Insatiable State of America, speaks provocatively about the Human quest for attainment, love, acceptance and salvation, through consumption. Surprisingly, in the end, you might find what you hunger for not being what feeds you and that certainly is food for thought...
— Cat Gwynn
OMNIVORE: One Nation Undervalued
We look back. We look ahead. To our detriment, we avoid looking at what’s right in front of us. The act of witnessing can be downright uncomfortable, often fraught with the obligation of an emotional response. Overwhelmed by demands of empathy, it’s easier to overlook. Omnivore stops and carefully takes in everything.
In my ethnographical series, Hungry: The Insatiable State of America, I examined a distracted nation’s ingestion of everything in search of power, security and self-worth, with little thought of the subsequent ramifications. The corpulent images I made for that body of work mirrored the times: a vast landscape of unchecked overindulgence.
In my latest series, Omnivore: One Nation Undervalued, I continue with the theme of cultural definition through mass consumption. I make my pictures purposefully economical, impoverished by our current circumstances. Utilizing the most reductive subject matter possible, I snap the present into focus by framing the consequences of our prolonged heedlessness. Place is less important to these pictures; they could be taken anywhere; the merit is in the context which weaves our collective stories together.
In Omnivore the descriptive titles and found text convey the sad simplicity of contemporary terms that define our downfall. As a species, we are hardwired for language. Under a continual barrage of rhetoric, we tend to be swayed by the ideas we hear most often, whether or not they are the most accurate or beneficial. Using relevant words to inform images, this photo-lingual series makes an incisive statement about our present day societal behavior and cultural detritus.
I carry my camera everywhere, always hungry to take in the remnants of languished materialism. I see distraction, limitations and stagnation: public marks of lack, excess, waste and disregard. Like an archeologist I gather perceptible evidence of our communal gratifications and aversions. I never filter what I photograph; I recognize that sometimes what initially meant nothing ends up meaning more than I could ever imagine.