Katherine Longly

Visual artist - Photographer

Art workshops - Cultural mediation & participative projects - Trainings


Rotten Potato

2013 - 2015

Starting from a very personal concern about the relationship we have with food and our bodies, I followed "biggest eaters" contests in Belgium, France and the United States, in order to understand what is the counterpart that drives champions to deliberately do violence to their bodies.

This series comes in the form of an installation combining photos, paintings on paper doilies, pictures, sculpture and various documents. This project won the Belgian Luxembourg Contemporary Art Award in 2014.

“Rotten potato” refers to the nickname I was afflicted with for part of my childhood. I suffered from being overweight. For a long time, I tried to keep some distance from that period’s photographic memories. Then I began to paint them in oil painting on objects directly related to food. This transposition from one medium to another allowed me to 're-tame' those images. This was the starting point for the “Rotten Potato” project.

Meeting the champions

I then felt the need to push my exploration of people's relationship with food beyond my personal history. So I decided to explore this issue where it reveals itself in the most conspicuous, uninhibited, and exaggerated way possible: at eating contests. I traveled in Belgium and in the North of France to photograph champions devouring cherry pies, strong cheeses, fries, cabbage, sugar pies, or “pâté gaumais” (pâté pies). With in mind, the will to understand the counterpart that drives these men and women to do violence to their bodies.

The prejudice against competitive eaters is very strong, especially among those who never witnessed a competition. So I also wanted to give them a voice directly, by proposing that they photograph, using a disposable camera, their daily meals for a month.

Europe versus U.S.A.

In Belgium and in the North of France, contest organizers’ motivation is very often the upholding of a local gastronomic heritage. They often take place during local celebrations where all the region’s inhabitants meet in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Winners are awarded with, at best, a ham or free dinner in a local restaurant.

The situation is very different in the United States. Contests are organized by large junk food companies. Gorging has become a real, sport-like discipline, with famous champions, high-level training, exclusivity agreements, and major economic interests. Champions are real athletes — and their physical appearance contrasts so much with how the consumers targeted by aggressive marketing campaigns disguised as popular events can look like. I went to the famous Nathan’s hot dog eating contest in the United States, which takes place in Coney Island, New York, on July 4th, to perceive this contrast.

to shine one day...

The terms and conditions, the scope and the financial stakes of the competitions organized both sides of the Atlantic are certainly not comparable. Nevertheless, some parallels can be drawn. First, there is the seriousness surrounding the organization of these competitions. Then the pride that surrounds the champions. The audience acclaim them, their competitors envy them, their relatives encourage them. The journalists only have eyes for them during the competitions.

I found similar motivations and identity issues. Who does not want one day to be the center of attention? But you must still find the discipline you can excel in.

« I don't know, it's just neat to see people believe in you, for anything, really »
Tim  Eater X Janus, american champion, n°3 at International Federation of Competitive Eating ranking