A tea bag is a simple pouch that shelters fragments of aromatic leaves. Submerged, its body swells and releases unique flavors; a treasure of tannins infuse the water with pastel hues, and permeate the air with sobering scents. A warm cup of tea warms the soul and is a source of solace and reflection.

Abandoned on paper napkins, the tea bag exudes life, long after being discarded. Its moist and warm body continues to bleed onto tableware tissue, offering a rainbow of soft hues that are often unnoticed and unappreciated.

This essay was born soon after an impassioned affair suddenly ended. To pay homage to unexpected lovers who infuse their partners with new life, I pointed my lens at the humble tea bag. The work was cathartic. I looked deep into each bag, an exemplary metaphor for the self: a porous shell for the body; herbs for the life within; and string (one end tethered to the bag, the other to a tag bearing a unique flavor or advertisement), for the strings and messages that tie us to one another.

I collected an assortment of rectangular, square, and round bags in a variety of flavors–forty-three in all, and photographed them with black and white film, individually and in pairs, then digitally colorized the photographs to enhance the content. The resulting work fit into two categories: the first spoke to cycle of human relationships, the other, a small subset, depicted botanical blossoms.

For the main ‘relationship’ set, tea bags were shaped into figures to simulate the dance of courtship and union, conveying joy, ecstasy, heartbreak, alienation, torment, pregnancy, birth, and family. And because I like to believe that the love we yearn for ultimately arrives, I ended the series with a triumphant pair, bound to one another, yet each proud, strong and independent. The collection celebrates the music of a lover’s body and illustrates the rich, emotional give and take inherent in many relationships.

By careful observation of the digitally added colors, the reader can map the often complex spiritual interplay between one soul and another.

For the second ‘botanical’ set, I shaped bags into plant specimens— these are the last five in the essay. Come, let loose your imagination and travel with me to the land of play and make-believe.

Abraham Menashe
New York City, 2004


11_Tea-BagsTea Bags, by Abraham Menashe, available from iTunes.