This spring photographer Jan Hoek travelled to Ethiopia as a ‘visual ombudsman’ for Amsterdam-based FairChain coffee brand Moyee. Was Moyee living up to its FairChain promise and truly helping its coffee farmers and partners realize their dreams? The result is a hilariously kitschy and touching ‘Faces of FairChain’ campaign that will be unveiled at the artist’s upcoming New Supermodels solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam.
In the spring of 2016 Moyee asked Hoek to travel to Ethiopia to capture the key players behind FairChain coffee using the photographer’s typical theatrical style and bright contrasts. Originally, Hoek said no.
“I don’t do typical brand campaigns, especially campaigns brands think up themselves,” the photographer says. “But Moyee pursued me quite relentlessly and eventually I said I would be willing to go as a ‘visual ombudsman’. I basically proposed to photograph a critical campaign, and I was absolutely certain they would tell me to get lost. After all, what brand would say yes to all that? Well, they said yes.”
“A lot of people who work for Moyee do so because they truly believe in its mission,” says Hoek.
“We are pretty vocal about our positive intentions, so it would have been pretty hypocritical to turn Jan down,” says Moyee founder Guido van Staveren. “We originally wanted Jan to photograph our partners with Western consumption articles like refrigerators and TVs, stuff they dream of buying with more money. Jan wanted to dive deeper than that, get more personal than that. We gave him that freedom.”
No status quo
A Charlotte Kohler prizewinner, Jan’s oeuvre includes alcoholic lovers in Amsterdam, Thai sex workers, Ethiopian madmen and Kenyans masquerading as Somali pirates. While only 32, the Dutch photographer has travelled extensively through Africa and Asia snapping bright, honest and playfully profound shots of local people and cultures.
I basically proposed to photograph a critical campaign, and I was absolutely certain they would tell me to get lost. After all, what brand would say yes to all that? Well, they said yes.”
“My work critically zooms in on the relationship between model and photographer,” says Hoek. “As a photographer, I don’t believe that all ethical issues can be solved. The same holds true for a company like Moyee that aims to be ethical. Your intensions may be there, but you can’t solve every problem. You can’t be all perfect. This tension is palpable in all my own work.”
Faces of FairChain
The ‘Faces of FairChain’ images are at times kitschy, at times hilarious, and they continuously offer a critical perspective of Moyee’s promise to make lives better. One image is of the coffee brand’s Ethiopian CEO dressed like a pimp and sitting on a throne. Another pictures a female roaster squatting on a toy Mercedes. There are saleswomen dressed kitschily as James Bond girls, and coffee bean sorters surrounded by books for their children. According to Hoek, Moyee’s coffee farmers would rather be doctors. The catch is that all their dreams rely on FairChain becoming a global phenomenon.
One image is of the coffee brand’s Ethiopian CEO dressed like a pimp and sitting on a throne. Another pictures a female roaster squatting on a toy Mercedes.
“Admittedly, the coffee sorters said they’d never earned so much money as they do now at Moyee,” says Hoek. “Yet even so, they still can’t buy all the nice things they’d like for their children. And while the coffee farmers are earning more, many of them are spending it all on honey wine.”
Hoek photographed each individual after having extensive conversations with them about their ambitions, their realities and their daily struggles. Hoek includes the key takeouts from his conversations in each photograph in the form of handwritten speech bubbles.
5 years later
“The honesty and vulnerability of his images gets to the heart of the matter in a way that isn’t always easy to look at, not even for us,” adds Moyee’s Van Staveren. “I mean, here we are trying to change the world and Jan reveals that many simply dream of flatscreen TVs and honey wine. But in most cases, the dreams he captured in this campaign are dreams that are bigger than our own here in the West.”
“A lot of people who work for Moyee do so because they truly believe in its mission,” says Hoek. “In many cases, they earn less than their previous jobs, but they truly believe that five years down the road they’ll earn more than they could dream of because of the success of the company. I would like to do this all again in five years to see if Moyee actually lives up to its promise and its partners’ expectations.”
Jan Hoek ‘New Supermodels’ opens on June 4th in the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam and runs through September 25th. For more information about the exhibition please contact the museum at stedelijkmuseumschiedam.nl.
During the summer Moyee will include one of Jan’s ‘Faces of FairChain’ snapshots in every package ordered online. Which is to say, collect these babies by ordering coffee here.
About Jan Hoek
Last year Jan Hoek won the prestigious Charlotte Kohler prize, an award of €30,000 given each year to two artists exceptional in the fields of theatre and visual art. He is currently nominated for the Volkskrant Beeldende Kunstprijs 2016. The 32-year old artist lives and works in Amsterdam.
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