IN THE PHOTOGRAPH, 16 raw yolks sit in a plastic ice-cube tray, each compartment brimming with albumen. Around the tray lie broken eggshells, cast off on a dimensionless blue surface. As a composition, it’s simple and striking, with saturated Jolly Rancher colors, the kind of image that pops on Instagram. But it doesn’t tell the story we’ve come to expect from food photographs that dominate social media: There’s no teasing promise of deliciousness or even edibility. The yolks are sunshine-yellow yet eerily rectangular, filling their ice-cube cells, which reflect the dimensions of the photograph itself. Nature has given way to artifice; shell has been separated from yolk, form from content, food from function. There’s nothing to eat here.
The duo behind the image, Josie Keefe and Phyllis Ma, both 31, have made photographs, zines and stop-motion videos together since 2014 under the name Lazy Mom — an invocation of the cultural boogeyman of the “bad mother” who neglects her children. Instead of assembling a proper after-school snack, Lazy Mom indulges artistic impulses, taking close-ups of a smushed mustard packet or a pane of Wonder Bread immured in Ziploc, the light catching on plastic creases with a Vermeer-like luster. In working with food — which means playing with it, something “we’re told not to do,” Keefe says — the women are among a cohort of American artists for whom food is both material and subject matter, carrying on a tradition that reaches back centuries but has expanded in range and theme dramatically in the past few decades.