A Food Photography Story

Since 2011 almost 40,000 food photos have been submitted to us from over 60 countries. The categories for the awards cover the full cultural range of the depiction of food in society. From styled food for magazines to images of families eating together in celebration of religious festivals, from depictions of the realities of food production to food growing in its natural setting.

It is such an honour to work within the sector of so many talented and creative individuals. Early in our programme of blogs we looked at the history of food photography with blogger Helen Grace Ventura-Thompson but we were thrilled to see a book entirely dedicated to the history of food in photography being published this year by Aperture. Feast for the Eyes: The Story of Food in Photography by Susan Bright. An exhibition will also take place to include approximately 100 framed photographs, find out more here.

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Image Above: Martin Parr, Untitled (Hot Dog Stand), 1983–85

Our new Chair of Judges, David Loftus and former judges Martin Parr and Heidi Swanson all feature in the book which passionately explores food in photography.

For us, Bright’s opening chapter perfectly describes what makes food in photography so special:

We are what we eat. Food both fuels and shapes our physical bodies from the inside, as well as being an outward expression of our pleasures and our principles. It crosses and transgresses boundaries in every sense. Eating is one of the most base, visceral, and profane of acts, yet it is also caught up in our rituals, religions, and celebrations— it is the most human of needs, both physically and culturally. Food can signify a lifestyle or a nation, hope or despair, hunger or excess. It is the site of protest and control. It can reinforce stereotypes or undermine them. It is given to riot and spoof—as in the ridiculous food fight—but also symbolizes the most refined aspects of a culture. It carries our desires and fantasies; it can stand in for sex, be a signal of status, or engage in our politics, betraying our attitudes about immigration, domestic issues, the environment, animal rights, and travel. Ultimately, food is not only about literal taste, but also Taste with a capital T—both the lifestyles we aspire to and the building blocks of culture itself.
And so, similarly, photographs of food are rarely just about food. They hold our lives and time up to the light. As a subject that is commonly at hand, food has been and continues to be widely depicted. Many of the photographers in this book demonstrate that the most obvious of subjects is often the most demanding, and photographs of food—much like food itself—can invoke deep-seated questions and anxieties about issues such as consumption, aspiration, tradition, gender, race, desire, wealth, poverty, pleasure, revulsion, and domesticity. It can be a carrier for all kinds of fantasies and realities, and photographs of food can be complicated and deceptive, touching on many aspects of our lives, both public and private.
In addition, these pictures can be found in all sorts of places—not only in cookbooks, but also in art, fashion and advertising, or as vernacular, industrial, and editorial photography. But despite the ubiquity of photographs of food—or perhaps because of it—these images are rarely written about in their entirety.

There are many interesting works to consider, from the cover image by Irving Penn, Salad Ingredients, New York, 1947 to Charles Jones, Peas, ca. 1900 for food portraiture but also images of food for sale by Robert Crawshay, A Slow Market Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, 1868 and aerial images of food in the field by Georg Gerster, Tilled Fields, Pennsylvania, 1988.

Image below: Wladimir Schohin, Stilleben, 1910

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The book really highlights how significant food in photography has been and we look forward to helping to continue promoting this art form for many years to come.

If you have had a chance to read the book do let us know which images you most enjoyed or if there are any other photo books you can recommend please let us know.

Image below: Harold Edgerton, Milk Drop Coronet, 1957

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