Water Salad is the second in photographer Eugénie Frerich’s three-part series about freshwater, dealing with the subject in three different domains. Back in January, we wrote about Scorpio, the first segment that imagines a total, global loss of water. This latest instalment, however, takes a step back and examines water’s ubiquity and consumption, specifically through Eugénie’s own experience living in southern California. “The final series will explore water’s abundance, and all the good and bad that comes with that,” she tells It’s Nice That.
The project is wrapped around a loose narrative about a woman’s daily experiences with drinking water in a southern Californian community enduring a severe drought. The individual images, shot with strong directional light that demarcates the frame’s visual interest, appear as contextless, unpolished advertisements when seen alone. The scenes seem mundane – a woman drinking water, a person washing dishes, a crowd going down a slip-and-slide, but the implications seem surreal and apocalyptic: how is there so much water to use for pleasure when a drought is underway?
“I learned that trying to understand how I consume water is challenging. On a daily basis, there is no easy way to know how much water I use. For three months leading up to making the pictures, I kept a daily journal in which I recorded all my water-consuming actions, from drinking to showering to brushing my teeth and so on,” she says, finding herself quickly surrounded by buckets and measuring cups.
Much like Scorpio, the formation of this loose narrative is a continuation of her approach of drawing out new associations by a wordless sequencing of images. Eugénie sees recurring observation as core to her practice. “I’ve found that if I start to see something more, I begin to value it in a different way. So my objective here is simply to see, through the act of making pictures, water,” she says.
The obsession comes both from Eugénie’s personal politics as well as a visual interest in the physicality of the liquid. Originally hailing from the Pacific Northwest, she notes: “I am from a region in the US that is largely defined by water – a coastal temperate rainforest where it rains quite a bit. I didn’t realise how strongly I identified with water – in terms of who I am, where I’m from, which trees and plants I love the most – until I moved away from it,” attributing the conception of this project to this sudden hyper-awareness of water’s scarcity. But her closer engagement with the physical existence of water also made her appreciate it as an artistic material. “I love the way water freezes in weird globs and sculptural shapes when captured at high speeds. It’s an easy thing to become visually obsessed with,” she continues.
Eugénie’s approach also explores hype, classification and the formation of truth. She notes that there are four perspectives that she wanted to explore through this project: pseudoscience and experimentation, performance and re-enactment, typology, and the visual language of advertising. Despite being a fluid, formless matter, Eugénie sees internal contradictions and dualities in it. “There is scarcity and abundance, superficiality and depth, violence and calm, the loud against the quiet, and the serious with the absurd,” she notes. Her typology format was a way to manage this flood of meanings. “I didn’t think there was a singular way to make pictures about water that would be effective or interesting enough on its own, so I mashed all the perspectives together instead – into a salad, if you will,” she says.
There are plans in the future for combining the series into a book at the culmination of the three-part work. But for now, she leaves us with some food for thought. After her obsessive investigation into water consumption, Eugénie shares some of her findings: “I learned that it takes around 2000 gallons of water to produce a single pound of conventional beef, once you factor in the entire water footprint. I learned that on average there are two cups of water in the amniotic fluid when a baby is born. I learned that the average woman is made of 60 per cent water, by volume, which in my case means about nine gallons.”
About the Author
Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.