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What's In a Word?
The Lexicon of Sustainability

by Sam McMillan

For inspiration, Gayeton points to Caravaggio, whom he says was one of the first painters to preassemble a painting to make a moment that never existed. “Because each artwork is comprised of dozens if not hundreds of images, I can actually compose different narratives within the same artwork, at times building scenes over hours and hours, shooting thousands of images to assemble something that captures a moment in time that never happened.”

The thick impasto of information written atop the photographic breaks up the narrative, and slows down the time it takes to fully understand the story. As Gayeton explains, “I love film because it has a narrative with a beginning, middle and end. For me, photographs were always incomplete. The addition of text, taking my photo subjects’ ideas and writing them directly on the images, allows me to create an experience that takes time to decode and understand. And since all these elements are fluid, they can be animated or turned into a print, making them platform agnostic...something equally at home in print, on a website, in a pop-up show or a film.”

When asked if he worries that writing on the images will ruin their pristine quality, Gayeton practically snorts, “Oh please. I can’t be bothered with art. I just want people to buy local.”

Intriguingly, Gaeyton notes that while collectors have purchased images with the least amount of words, the pictures that garner the most hits on the Lexicon of Sustainability website and keep viewers on the screen the longest are the ones with the most words. As type designer Zuzana Licko of Émigré famously said, “We read best what we read most.

Getting those words out into the community is the work of Lexicon Pop-Up Shows. The Lexicon Pop-Up Show contains twelve lightweight collapsible easels that feature two dozen 24" × 36" full-color images from the Lexicon website, printed on FSC paper. There are currently 100 sets on view around the country. Instead of appearing in art galleries, the Lexicon Pop-Up Shows are displayed in classrooms, farmers’ markets, parks, community centers, libraries and even a barn. The goal is revolutionary: help local communities build healthy local food systems.

Like that latest of revolutions in business software, Gayeton chose to crowdsource his revolution. At any one moment, a dozen team members work on animations, calendars and text for the images. Curators are chosen from interested applicants who agree to host five temporary shows in their community, then serve as a lending library for others to put on events. It’s a crowdsourced guerrilla assault on the powers of agribusiness, one that delivers the information people need to make informed decisions about the food they buy. Once the Pop-Up Shows run their course, the images are donated to a local, permanent collection, so they truly are sustainable.

Gayeton’s Pop-Up Shows bypass galleries and museums in favor of farms, cafeterias, supermarkets, classrooms, farmers’ markets, libraries and public parks—the very places where everyday people think about food.

With a total of 2,400 images shown in hundreds of locations, Gayeton estimates the Pop-Up Shows “are the most widely seen collection of photos in America.”

“This is a pivotal moment,” Gayeton says. “These are prescient images, because the people photographed are prescient. Fifty years from now we’ll look back at a generation that took us from consumers to caretakers. I’ve done the $50 art book, I’ve had gallery shows and sold images for thousands of dollars, but I’m much more interested in becoming part of a movement that can change lives.” CA McMillan
Sam McMillan is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer, teacher and producer of interactive multimedia projects for a number of Bay Area production houses, and can be reached at