Emily Lawrence is at work mapping the familiar footpath between our olfactory glands and our memory vaults. She perches on one of several petite stools inside The Craig Gallery, surrounded by the photographs of her new exhibition, Scratch & Sniff Menu (yes, you can carefully drag your nail across to release a scent). “It’s so interesting how smell and food are connected to our memories and our identities, and the way that it can so vividly transport us to a different place,” she says. “I’ve always really been interested in retro food photography.”
It shows. The photos are filled with bright colours, circular patterns and perfect symmetry—all hallmarks of food styling from the 1940s to 1970s.
Scratch & Sniff Menu began as Lawrence created a series of photos to honour her late grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s, as family memories surrounding her came back to shared meals. These photos—including one a perfectly sugar-dusted jelly roll, her grandma’s favourite—are the basis of the exhibit.
Lawrence then saw the chance to retrieve and suspend others’ faded memories. A care home “let me come in for an afternoon and we had tea and cookies. They were just so excited to be able to talk about memories of family and food.” Her interviewees listed strawberry ice cream, apple pie and potatoes swimming in gravy among foods that brought back memories. Lawrence dutifully re-created each dish as accurately as possible to document. To complete the memory, scent oils were infused during the printing process.
Gallery guests are given a bowl of coffee beans to clear the nose between pieces, and invited to stand on vintage-y shag carpet footprints (made by Lawrence’s friend Helah Cooper) to lean in, scratch and smell the art.
“My intent was to give viewers this experience where they’re looking at this image and knowing that the person that the image is about and from may not get the same experience that they’re having—the scent, the memories,” Lawrence says. “Because for Alzheimer’s patients, a lessened sense of smell is one of the first symptoms. But, it’s also one of the best things you can use to help them.”