The first mandatory warning messages about the negative health effects of using tobacco were implemented in Iceland as early as 1969. 32 years later, in 2001, the first so-called pictorial warnings were introduced on cigarette packaging in Canada. The visual world around cigarettes has now gone full circle, from Richard Prince’s iconification of the Marlboro Man to former fashion model Barb Tarbox, dying from stage 4 terminal lung cancer and looking back at the consumer from the packaging with an empty gaze. Nevertheless, the smoker keeps on passionately inhaling the deadly fumes, well aware of the potential consequences.
According to the WHO, the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing in excess of 8 million people a year around the world. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while around 1.2 million are non-smokers dying from the causes linked to passive smoking.
In A-FL’s Ashes to Ashes, the pictorial warnings of cigarette packages are taken out of their normal context and presented in a small artist’s book. The book is not so much concerned with the moral cues constituting the original purpose of these gruesome images. It rather puts emphasis on the selective perception which allows us to look but not properly see the images when presented on tobacco products. By way of continuous exposure, these images have gradually lost their shock value. Curiously, even newly introduced pictorial warnings are often met with indifference, as consumers have come to expect their presence. By scanning and enlarging the small scale photographs and highlighting certain details, the halftone raster that make up their anatomy is exposed and is thereby ascribed meaning in the reading of the images. As such, the final images can be seen as anatomical studies on two levels.
The book features a silk-screened cover of high-gloss Chromolux board and embossed, golden endpapers. The title page of each book includes a manually applied cigarette burn. Each copy comes in an archival polyester pocket.