My eye-candy post proved to be very popular, which may well be destined to make me lazy (picture equals hazaar words and all that). However, I’m determined to be as wordy as ever so here’s a ramble on photographs without photographs.
I must say, Friday’s foodblogger dinner opened my photographic eyes. The top honours must go to Shaheen’s purplefoodie.com, where the pictures are so outstandingly wow that droolworthy is an understatement. Her potato photos should come with statutory warnings for dieters (though the garlic olive oil may provide some relief). Somehow she even manages to sex up the simple opening of a can.
Nowadays, armed with multimegapixel phones and digital cameras, everyone’s photoblogging food. Once upon a time people used to photograph their kids obsessively but I guess food moves less, allows for reorders and often looks better.
Food photography is the logical child of the trend of plating food in artistic ways. One can hardly eat at top restaurants nowadays without feeling constantly guilty about destroying works of art. The pro and amateur chefs on an unceasing progression of foodshows turn out picture-perfect plates under deadlines tighter than Jack Bauer’s on 24. But, like most things, this was not always how it was.
Plated service, though associated most often with French food, was actually started by the Russian courts. The custom (continuing from medieval times) was to serve everything at once in a lavish and impressive banquets ala the feasts of Asterix (who, of course, was French). Somewhere in the early 19th century, however, the French adopted the ‘Russian’ style of serving (service à la russe) and thus, the individual plating of foods began its domination of tables and televisions. By the late nineteenth century, the ‘homestyle’ banquet was headed firmly into extinction -preserved with care only by New York Italians and Las Vegas casino bosses. The (western) world was, meanwhile, firmly in the grip of the plated meal.
Food photography had to wait a few years more for the world to turn colour (I guess there aren’t many ways to make a monochrome chicken look edible). People had been drawing luscious colour apples for ages, but photography was still obstinately stuck in sepia. Then there came Nickolas Muray, a man of many talents, also an accomplished practitioner of the new and novel color-carbro process (you had to develop your own photos in those days, just clicking the button wasn’t enough). As it turned out, the Great Depression robbed him of his main line of work – celebrity portraits in colour – and pushed him into commercial photography. McCall’s magazine contracted him in 1935 for their home and kitchen pages, and just like that, food photography was born. Today, food photography is a big chunk of the commercial photo industry. They even have their own festival!