Meet Food “Information Artist” Douglas Gayeton | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Meet Food “Information Artist” Douglas Gayeton

The images convey invisible or purposely obfuscated ideas related to food, explained by the experts themselves

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Douglas Gayeton, the author of Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town, has been exploring the principles of sustainability through photography, taking abstract concepts and turning them into annotated infographics—or “information art.” It’s part an ongoing series called The Lexicon of Sustainability.

The images convey invisible or purposely obfuscated ideas related to food, and the concepts are explained by the experts themselves, like Elaine Ingham (above) translating soil science and microbiology for the masses. Paul Stamens (in the photo below) explains the concept of myco-remediation. I talked with Gayeton about the project from his home in Petaluma, California.

How did you come up with the concept and what do you hope these images will convey?

Images often leave you asking more questions than providing answers. When I see a photo, what I want to know is not always explained. So, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could include an image and then include all the things that you’d want to know if you were looking at the image?” I began to make images and have people talk about them, essentially describing what’s happening. I really wanted to demystify the language of sustainability.

The process—information art—takes complicated ideas and makes them simple to understand. The Lexicon Project started with food and farming and now it’s looking at climate change and water. We’re starting to get into technical exploration of ideas. It’s almost a formula—in much the same the way in physics that you create a formula to describe an activity or an action in the physical world. That formulaic approach your see—used in physics or math—is the same type of construction that I use for the images. More than a construction actually, these images are a deconstruction of ideas, reducing them to their essence, then trying to find a way to graphically represent them. Somebody once wrote that one of the interesting thing about the work is that it works the way a mind works: If I were to simply give you a piece of paper with a lot of writing on it, you might skim over it; but if I were to take a bunch of ideas and place them on an image, then you are suddenly active in the idea. You’re active in the appreciation of the idea. That activity creates a narrative and makes it easier to retain information. You have more of a deeper connection…. It’s not a passive experience. The active experience of turning the reading of something into it’s almost a game-like quality, I think it allows people to connect more intimately with the ideas and images.

Douglas Gayeton is planning 500 pop-up shows this summer, and anyone can be apply to be curator here.

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