Wok the Dog began as an exploration of childhood fears. Clean, brightly lit supermarkets didn’t exist in Taipei in the early 80’s. Groceries were bought at old- fashioned markets where mothers and wives knew the best vegetable vender, the butcher with the best cuts and the couple that sold the cheapest fruits. The markets were dark, full of pungent smells; floors were slick with blood and water. The sounds of caged and dying animals filled the space. At three feet tall, I was afraid of getting lost in the crowd, taken by the butcher, caged, and sold.
At 18, I returned to Taiwan and to the markets, wanting to see what had made me so afraid. The markets had changed. They had become more sanitary, brighter, and air-conditioned. But the struggle of life and death remained.
I have photographed the markets in various parts of the world for fourteen years now.
What was once fear has turned into an examination of the commerce of life: the death of the animal sustains our lives and the livelihood of the vendors. I realize how purchasing packaged meats, “pink in plastic” at supermarkets, makes me forget about where food comes from. It creates a sense of detachment and dulls the awareness of what dinner is. There is a harmony between man and his food that comes from cherishing his dinner and acknowledging that the pork chop on his plate once had four legs and a beating heart.
As I continue to photograph the markets, I begin to understand the cost of America’s industrialized food system and our reliance upon refrigeration. The sterility of the 24-hour superstore renders us blind to impace we make on the natural equilibrium with our food purchases. Convenience permits us to avoid our own mortality. Our detachment makes the food less special, and life less precious. We would not eat as we do, or waste as we do if we really understand what it takes to produce a six ounce steak. Recognizing teh truth enhances our humanity; the beastliness lies in our avoidance.
There is an honestly in the lives of the vendors who have surrounded their days with death. The sanctity of death, the fragility of life are honored by experiencing both in the most fundamental way, day in and day out. Through the vernacular of food, markets and animals, we can discuss the larger issue.
Wok the Dog is about the cost of living.
As I travel from country to country, the subtle differences in the gender, economical and social dynamics of each culture becomes clear. The market place transforms into a micro-cosom of that particular culture, nation. Blending the idiosyncratic sensibility of documentary and fine art, Wok the Dog find the poetry in life’s reality, raises cultural awareness, generates dialogue and brings understanding through our shared commonalities. It is a humanistic project of our most instinctual needs, our oldest traditions.
In September of 2013, I’ve completed the shooting phase of Wok the Dog, 17 years in the making, 42 countries and 120 cities later. Wok the Dog will be forthcoming as a book. Stay tuned.
For more on Wok the Dog and other creative endeavors: www.charliegrosso.com