Food photography has earned a place of its own among the artistic ranks of photography and beyond. Seductive food imagery is nothing new. Since the vintage recipes printed in magazines when artists would seek to entice readers with pleasing images of dishes and ingredients, the public has evolved not only their expectations of what food images should look like but what their purpose should be. Images became photographs that could draw readers in, not only through inspiration but also in accuracy. Food photography of eggs for instance wasn’t shot or thought of entirely differently than food photography for cookies . The idea was to make sure the information was clear.
Creative food photography is a relatively rece nt medium since the precision of the images always tended to be the goal. A more ‘documentary” style was favored to give information as clearly as possible so the reader could understand a process, identifying key ingredients. The primary focus however was the dish in its final form, ready to serve, showing off the recipe’s main elements. Separating out each of the ingredients became the norm later for its efficiency and clarity. But its eventual overuse felt boring and flat. This ended up being just the creative nudge photographers needed to start looking at their edible subjects with new, fresh ideas.
Images became more graphic, styled, and overall more focused on gaining an emotional reaction. The trend really took off when social media stepped into the game. Food blogging was the godmother that inspired the internet’s appetite early on. There was no more need to purchase magazines to enjoy the sinful dessert food photography or to indulge the glutton’s secret love of burger food photography.
Blog readers arrived from around the world and with widely different interests. But the great unifier, food, is something that applies to everyone and hunger-inducing food photos will make almost anyone stop and look. As a result, it became less about whether recipes had been tested in a magazine’s kitchen or even what it tasted like. Readers were romanced by glossy, brightly lit photography that you could eat with your eyes. The always popular breakfast food photography, was not only alluring to browse, but something to aspire to and not overly difficult to re-create. Familiar and simple but beautifully presented images of food that reminded us of our best life moments and the moments we were meant to live. Even more, it was an aspirational lifestyle that we could live right in our home kitchens.
International viewers and contributors provided access to our favorite foreign flavors with Indian food photography driving the internet’s imagination. Brights colors and high contrast gave way to trends like ice cream food photography which inspired the eventual Ice Cream Museum concept. Themes in food photography are highly emphasized and expressed through styling, lighting, props, and decor.
An art form that continues to evolve, museums and exhibitions like the food photography exhibition in London are sprouting up in major cities around the world. The subject has sparked even the imagination of Fan Ho, a Chinese photographer considered to be the best that ever lived. Though not exactly a food photographer, Hong Kong streets filled with street food stalls were the backdrop Ho favored when roaming the city streets shooting everyday life. It’s not surprising that the food stalls were his destination of choice to capture the essence of humanity. Food sustains life and therefore tends to bring out all colors of our nature, drawing on our emotions.
But sometimes our hunger for art becomes liquid. Food photography, drinks specifically, are a huge hit on social media with photographers falling in love with the alchemy and mystery that mixologist are emphasising with craft cocktails. It’s easy to express the mood of a meal with lighting and various techniques that draws a reaction, rather than explains. Different techniques like Chiaroscuro, where the background is dark and in high contrast to the lit subject, creates almost a brooding tone and is a popular style. Highly stylised food photography now exists in almost every iteration and has been so diffused that the format has actually given way to a less perfect aesthetic. “Perfectly imperfect” images, categorized by a less staged and more spontaneous style, originated in English speaking and Scandinavian countries where individualism and the imperfection of life is highlighted. Our human essence requires nourishment. Our relationship to that which nourishes however, is always changing. Food photography is no longer just a professional craft. It is an accessible art form available to anyone with a camera phone. If we are essentially, “what we eat”, the images we create of “what we eat” will continue to change as long as our relationships to each other and ourselves do.