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It began, as many culinary marvels do, with an accidental discovery. Web designer Nadine Schlieper and photographer Robert Pufleb were making pancakes when they realized that the gently bubbling circles of batter resemble the pockmarked surface of our moon. They decided to photograph their hotcakes individually to replicate images of the satellite as seen from space, as perfect orbs floating against a dark background.
The results, compiled in a book recently published by The Eriskay Connection, are astonishingly convincing; in fact, were it not for its title, Alternative Moons, a viewer quickly thumbing through the pages would likely immediately accept these grayscale images as records of real moons. Circles formed by thick batter rising look just like the craters of satellites; patches created by the Maillard reaction resemble lunar mares. Some flapjacks even appear to have mountain ranges. It isn’t until you reach the end that Schlieper and Pufleb reveal the true nature of their subject: the series concludes with a recipe for pancakes, complete with tips on how to adjust the browning.
Amusing and lighthearted as it is, Alternative Moons is intended to foster a healthy dose of skepticism in its viewer towards the visual information that floods us daily. Its title draws directly from the words of counselor to President Trump, Kellyanne Conway, who made the absurd claim of “alternative facts” almost exactly one year ago, in defense of false attendance numbers of Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd.
“We intended Alternative Moons to be a metaphor for the perception and interpretation of images in times of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news,’” Schlieper and Pufleb said. “The book is a launching platform for questioning the power of images in general, their imaginary objectivity, as well as their vast potential for manipulating peoples minds.”
It’s impressive how a simple but tactful setup can transform a common breakfast food into a one-of-a-kind wonder that compels you to fall into quiet contemplation. Schlieper and Pufleb placed each pancake on a hemispheric object and photographed the cake from above using natural lighting; no digital distortion was used in the post-processing stages. In book form, the photographs are presented as scientific plates, shown only with their titles — a string of letters and numbers that allude to minor planet designations but more likely correspond to the image file’s name. One part visual journey, one part science fiction, and one part playful instruction, it’s a winning formula to upend how we react to what’s fed to us.
I mean that literally, as Alternative Moons won first prize at last year’s Vienna PhotoBook Festival. The real treat for the artists, though, I’d argue, was getting to conduct this delicious experiment, which required them to make what they believe was 100+ pancakes.
“There is no official count for the number of pancakes produced for our endeavor,” they said, “but they were all eaten, mostly by Robert.”