food in the arts  


With the invention of photography in 1839 food found itself before the camera’s lens. Occasional still lifes of food and photographs of people eating and drinking appear among the many portraits and architectural views made during photography’s first decade. Humbert de Molard’s 1846 calotype, "Men dressing a hog," is one of the earliest photographs taken through a gastronomic lens.  It is obviously posed, a sort of tableau vivant, reflecting both a painterly style and the long exposure that was required.

As cameras became more portable and lenses and emulsions faster or more light-sensitive, a journalistic approach to food began to emerge. Carlo Naya’s "Donkey drivers," made in 1876, shows boys who, having stopped to eat, seem to have been stumbled upon by a Western photographer looking for an exotic subject.  Naya probably posed his subjects, but his exposure time was likely to have been much less than Humbert de Molard’s, and the effect is more journalistic than painterly.  The slight blurring around the fire itself of A.C. Vroman’s image of Hopis round a campfire (1901) suggests that, although at first glance it looks posed, he found the group of people exactly as we see them.

music and food
literature and food
William Eggleston
Guillermo Kahlo
Humbert de Molard
Geoff Wall
Hopis round a campfire (1901)   artists’ films
Food in the Arts General Store

"They camped that night on the southern edge of the forest at a dry riverbed. The driver’s attempts to find water were fruitless but Adam Hanna and Crandall dug a well two feet deep and got some muddy water for coffee. They had a hearty meal and then Adam told stories of old Arizona. At one point someone suggests a photograph so friends at home will be able to see them just as they were around the campfire. Vroman took a string about six feet long and soaked it in bacon fat and laid one end in the flash powder. One of the group lit the end and jumped into place, so all could be remembered on this auspicious occasion. The next morning it was found that the hobbled horses had pawed through the ground to come up with enough water to drink and soon the group was again on its way." (Leontine Lowe Travels To Hopi Land 1895)

A.C. Vroman would go on to be one of the most important photographers of southwest Indians. He returned seven times between 1987 and 1904 amassing a collection of Indian artifacts, weavings, and katchina dolls that eventually ended up in Los Angeles’s Southwest Museum. The Pasadena Library received most of his negatives after he died in 1916.

The journalistic approach to food and eating occurs repeatedly in Twentieth Century photography.  Nothing illustrates the human condition more clearly than the interrelationship of people and food immutably fixed in the still photograph. To understand, one need only examine two powerful images:  Willy Georg’s photograph made in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1941, and Cartier-Bresson’s 1938 picnic on the banks of the Marne.  
Food frequently appears in fashion and art photography. Sometimes it may be used simply as a prop. On other occasions, food may be the focal point, if not the actual subject, such as the frozen foods in Penn’s 1977 photography.
Helmut Newton

Photo: Helmut Newton

Poem: Thomas Lux

The development of colour photography and sophisticated methods for reproducing colour photographs in books and periodicals led to its widespread use in cookbooks and advertising.  The studio photographer who illustrates cookbooks, food magazines and advertising, produces realistic or even idealistic treatments.  This ‘toothpaste and mouthwash’ dessert is the creation of Paul Kitching, at Juniper, in Cheshire. But it’s not as crazy as it looks – in fact, it’s only a clever reworking of the classic strawberry. meringue and mint combination.
From a few laboriously produced still lives, food became a subject, and sometimes a speciality, for many photographers. Today, like other photographic genres, food photography is omnipresent, often taken for granted and only as far away as the nearest library, bookstore or newsstand.

by Kathy Wachel, Rijn Templeton, Cynthea Mosier, and Jody Beek.