Why you should care
Because there are more creative things to do with food than posting photos of your lunch. Like re-creating the Great Wall of China.
Food photography is so passé. Anyone can do it — not necessarily well, but everyone will try, getting lots of hearts, excessive punctuation and emojis for the effort. Food has suffered humiliation at the hands of millions worldwide: over-lit, poorly focused, blurred images plastered on the pages of Flickr, Yelp, Instagram and Foodspotting. We’ve got a splitting epicurean hangover.
This proliferation and democratization of food photography, though, has taken away the preciousness we expect, says photo director Yvonne Stender, who has been hiring professionals for shoots for the past two decades, previously at New York, now at Sunset. Magazines, as a result, seem to have followed. “We’ve loosened up what’s printed on the page,” she says. “We show crumbs, half-eaten food, dirty forks, dishes don’t match. It’s not perfect, but it’s realistic.” This, she says, opens the door for even more innovation.
Our edibles need new representatives. Here are a few who are finding new ways to play with their food:
Sewn-Up Salmon and Eggs
A fan of popular culture, Anna Lomax has fabricated a completely material-istic affair called Tailor Made Food. The London-based designer and collector, working with photographer Victoria Ling, stitched up meals for this series — yes, with a needle and thread — turning them into colorful toys. Fabric avocado slices, eggs sunny-side up, salmon steak and a spilled glass of wine are placed across a backdrop. With pillowy peppers, carrots, toast … they’re more like stuffed animals.
Literary Dishes Come to Life
Dinah Fried used literature as a reference when photographing Fictitious Dishes, inspired by the meals consumed by epic characters like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, John Kennedy Toole’s Ignatius Reilly and J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield. “Not only is it smart and clever, it’s photography with a narrative to it,” Stender says. What started out as a Rhode Island School of Design project turned into a full-scale devotion to reading and cooking. In April 2014 came Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals. Prints of the literary dishes became available later that year in August.
“Have some wine,” the March Hare said in an encouraging tone. Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea.
Capturing Food in Motion
Ingredients sometimes look like they are in a store shelf lineup. Boring! Berlin-based photographer Nora Luther takes a new approach to depicting recipes in photos: She makes them airborne. Meaning she tosses lemons, mushrooms, parsley, olive oil, fish fillets, ribboned carrots and other ingredients in the air. Photographer Pavel Becker then captures them as they fall into mixing or cooking vessels. Whatever proportions and ingredients are in the frame make the recipe. What the cooked dish looks like, they say, is left to your own imagination.
Ingredients as Building Blocks
London-based photographer Carl Warner has definitely found a niche: He builds entire landscapes out of food. One client, Uncle Ben’s Rice, wanted to depict three iconic world landmarks for its international Rice Time line. The Taj Mahal structure was coated with coconut, domes were created from onions and minarets from baby corn, and the reflecting pool was lined with tiny plum tomatoes. The Great Wall of China was made from pineapple, and the Mayan temple from kidney beans and red peppers, with a cocoa donkey. Warner’s creativity lets loose all over the food — and real world — with pasta islands, mushroom cupcakes and fennel forests.
So maybe put the camera down, and find other creative ways to celebrate the fabulousness of food. Or just eat it.