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
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
"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)
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.
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
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.