Romain Roucoules artistically comments on the environment, social media and politics – with food


Romain Roucoules, a visual communication graduate specialising in photography at ECAL, honestly really confused us when we first viewed his portfolio. In simple terms – and without giving too much away (we’d rather leave that to him) – Romain’s work presents visuals with much more than what meets the eye.

Zooming in on natural elements, Romain’s practice presents comments on the food industry and its use of palm oil, food photography in the age of social media, deforestation and politics, simply by carefully placing figs amongst other objects in one image. As it turns out, some of these works are actually constructed digitally by Romain and are not photographs at all. He had us fooled.

An experimental artist concerning himself with technology and its interlinking relationship with photography, Romain’s work – and most importantly what he has to say – represents a visual artist way beyond his academic years, shifting perceptions of cultural, and now artistic, representations of food.

It’s Nice That: Can you tell how you developed your very particular approach to photography?

Romain Roucoules: Photography came rather late as a form of expression for me. At first, it was just a way to record moments of my life and places. When I started studying contemporary art, I almost stopped taking pictures as I was too busy working with other media, experimenting and understanding other forms of expression other than only images.

That’s when I realised I could use photography to arrange reality in the studio and I came back to the medium. I continued developing this idea when I started at ECAL and ended up using 3D software as a logical continuation of what I was doing in photography. Photography has always been very closely connected to technology, from the first way to fix an image to current means of image production.

It made me think that tools aren’t linked to the physical points of view anymore, and that point of view might become legitimate with time. So, I began learning how to make computer-generated imagery, which later happened to be a perfect way to talk about my concerns. New natures of images lead to new ideas, or new ways to tell stories. With that I was able, for instance, to talk about the food industry without creating any waste in the process.

I never gave up taking actual pictures and, in the end, most of the time I’m using all the techniques trying to constantly blend image typologies together.

INT: What made you want to study at ECAL?

RR: What interested me most was its very up-to-date approach to the changing nature of images in art and communication in general. ECAL considers new forms and new tools as part of the research, at the same level as traditional practices. I was also drawn to this school because it’s multidisciplinary. It pushes you to work with other sections to discover and understand other points of view. To look at all forms of design that connect to yours.

At the school, you get access to a whole set of tools, and you get to interact with a lot of people that love what they are doing. The rhythm is pretty intense and sometimes it’s dizzying to be lost in all those possibilities. But, in the end, and if you work hard enough, you get a chance to discover your personal approach.

I also love how the photography section is able to react very fast and stay ahead of research. For instance, 3D was not taught in the programme in my school year, I learned it all myself. But, a year after, they were already having lessons in it. Now I guess everyone tries 3D at least once!

INT: A number of your projects include natural elements, what is it about these subjects that inspire you?

RR: Food is such a rich theme to talk about the human condition. It is the most common and the most spectacular at the same time; eating is something we do every day but it can be the marker of a special moment. It tells human stories because it always provides clues about the cultural, social or historical contexts in which it’s been made.

To me, it’s very interesting that the subject hasn’t changed visually through the ages. Of course, there are changes like industrial food or social media that leads to more composition on plates, but the natural base elements have remained the same. Another thing I love about food images is the fact they almost always contain the Eros Thanatos duality. By nature, they tells stories about sensuality and decadence, life and death.

INT: Could you talk us through your favourite project completed at university?

RR: It’s hard to select one favourite project. Sometimes you manage to find strong conceptual aspects but sometimes the ideas are weaker and the form prevails. A good project would be when you manage to find a balance between all of that.

I guess my diploma was the most successful in this way. I managed to put a lot of my personal concerns aside in order to find a resulting form that gives direct substance to them and remains readable to everyone.

Especially with my triptych, Brunch on the Spot, in which I wanted to bring together the modern food industry and deforestation, two different pictorial spaces, two distant topics, but yet linked to each other, combined into one sole representation. The use of the triptych was a way to infer a notion of time, and to connect this piece with classical religious representations like altarpieces. Stock and press images of the actual rainforest were used to create backgrounds, and lightning on a modern still life composed of food likely to contain palm oil. All of this was arranged in 3D software, allowing me to create a believable image, at the balance point between real and fake.

INT: What work would you like to create in the future?

RR: I would like to go deeper into big compositions, and try to come closer to my painting renaissance inspirations, but still using modern means of image production. I’m already working in this direction, with ideas around natural elements embalmed into a static state, terrestrial and submarine. More or less the same ideas that I expressed with the use of CGI, but this time only with real elements.

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy (she/her) is the senior editor at Insights, a research-driven department with It's Nice That. Get in contact with her for potential Insights collaborations or to discuss Insights' fortnightly column, POV. Lucy has been a part of the team at It's Nice That since 2016, first joining as a staff writer after graduating from Chelsea College of Art with a degree in Graphic Design Communication.

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