Some thoughts on food and photographs, and food photography

The Observer Food Monthly, one of the best food-related publications available online, recently held a food photography competition. The results have been posted, and all the winning and runner-up photos are terrific. The winner of the "Food Glorious Food" category, a very humorous arrangement of some jelly babies, made me laugh out loud, but the one that struck me the most is the overall winner, a beautiful black and white photo by Ikuko Tsuchiya titled "The Widow in her kitchen".

It really made me re-think the nature of most of the photographs I've been posting here. I've gone mostly for the sort of "food porn" shot, especially since I got my serious SLR some months ago: part of the picture in focus, the rest blurred, everything made to look very, well, pornographic. It's disembodied food. It's the style popularized by many food magazines, and it does work well provided one has a decent camera with a macro lens, or at least some sort of good macro option. But it's not all there is to food. Food is not just there to be gazed at; it's there to be eaten, interacted with, and enjoyed.

One of the more linked-to posts here on Just Hungry is my how-to about taking photos on the road. I think that I over-emphasized the technical aspects of photo taking, which wasn't quite my intention. I do like the food-porn shot especially when it is done exceptionally well, but it is bothering me slightly that this is the only style that seems to be around these days, both online and on paper.

One reason I love taking photos at markets is because you can see people interacting with food. Whether it's the vendors lauding their wares, or the people earnestly examining it, it's a wonderful, human, scene.

I've been slowly organizing my digital photo album since it went over the 10,000 file mark. I have tons and tons of food porn pictures in there. But the ones that made me stop and smile were the ones that had people in them. People enjoying food. A lot of them aren't as beautiful as the food porn ones - the early ones in particular have various problems with red-eye and such - but they bring back all kinds of memories. Here are a couple:


This must have been taken in 2000 or so, before my mother and stepfather sold their old house. My sister, mother (in the middle) and stepfather are enjoying a lobster feast - my mom in particular! I can't remember a more delicious lobster than the one I had that day. Not the best of pictures by any means (I took it with my first digital camera ever, a clunky Agfa model) but the moment is priceless for me.

Olive man, Nyons, Provence, France, June 2006

This olive seller at the market in Nyons, France was positively poetic as he described just how his hand-cured olives and handmade tapenade was superior.

While many photos here will continue to be of the "Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my" closeup variety, I think that I am going to try to incorporate a few more images here at least of food with the people who eat it or produce it. It is part of the storytelling process.

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