‘Presence of Absence’: Using food as art and therapy

Molly Glasgow’s photography exhibit depicts junk food still lifes.

"Still Life With Fruit Loops,” 2014. — Photo by Molly Glasgow

Molly Glasgow, owner of the Grey Barn and Farm in Chilmark with her husband Eric and sons Noah and Jakie, is a skilled photographer who has found artistic inspiration and motivation in the debilitating ulcerative colitis that once ruled her life. She now practices healthy eating habits and captures beautiful still-life images of foods that she once loved but now shuns.

“In this series of photographs, I document the foods that are presented to us,” wrote Ms. Glasgow in an exhibit summary. “These foods entice us and call to us, but they offer us nothing in return. Instead this food leaves us asking for more even as it leaves us empty.”

Ms. Glasgow studied fine art at the Pratt Institute in the 1990s, and was an art director for about 10 years before she had children. She has worked at women.com, Savage Design Group in Texas, and Razorfish in London. Before Razorfish, Ms. Glasgow also had her own graphic design business for a time, called Lemon Zest.

“I studied sculpture at Pratt, but by the end of my college life I was really getting into photography,” Ms. Glasgow told The Times. She took some photography classes while living in London, then fast-forward many years later she began photographing her family farm in Chilmark.

In May 2013 the Grey Barn and Farm experienced a fire that almost completely destroyed the creamery. “I decided that after our fire, I needed to go back to art and figure out what I was trying to do with the farm through art,” Ms. Glasgow told The Times. “I started photographing whatever kind of came up.”

It was at this post-fire, pre-art time that Ms. Glasgow discovered she had ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): “I started to really understand how what I eat affects my body.” In a cruel twist, the Grey Barn and Farm bottles its own raw milk and makes its own cheese, but Ms. Glasgow can no longer eat dairy.

Having been a self-proclaimed addict to junk foods like Fruit Loops and Oreo cookies for much of her life, which are now on her major no-no list, Ms. Glasgow began storing these items in her studio and photographing them because “in their own way, they’re really pretty,” said Ms. Glasgow. “There are all of the bright colors and the memories that go along with those foods.”

Favorite exhibit photos are one of Fritos corn chips and one of a birthday cake. “A lot of what the photographs are about are ‘what’s left over,’” said Ms. Glasgow. “It’s not a picture of a cake at the beginning, it’s really like when you’re almost done cleaning up.”

Ms. Glasgow has a friend who asked her, “Are you trying to torture yourself?” because she keeps junk food in her studio but cannot eat it. “It’s therapeutic in some way,” said Ms. Glasgow.

Molly Glasgow’s “Presence of Absence” exhibit opens Saturday, May 2, at the Chilmark library with a reception open to the public from 3 to 5 pm. The show will be available for viewing through May 28 during regular library hours. For more information, visit mollyglasgow.com or contact the Chilmark library at 508-645-3360.