A History of Food Photography – Part 3

‘Food’ photographs first appeared in the early 19th century resembling still lifes, focusing on realism, composition, and importantly lighting effects - essential to any photograph. Photography’s first still life was a table set for a meal, by Nicephore Niepce in 1827. However, the most well-known images are Henry Fox Talbot’s ‘Pencils of Nature’ of 1846, showing fruit baskets on patterned tablecloths. Their compositions are reminiscent of 17th century Flemish still-life paintings.

The newly established medium of photography radically renewed the Impressionist art movement.  Impressionism in still life paintings focussed on consumption and class - the painter created a seemingly natural scene of objects despite conscientious arrangement. Rather than mirroring a scene like these early still-life photographs, artists personally depicted their own visual experience.

Although monochrome pictures began to appear in early cookery books, the process was slow. Professional photographers used the half-tone process for cheaper reproduction. By breaking the images into a series of dots, it was much easier to reproduce the full tonal range of a photograph in print.

Food illustrations often illustrated cookbooks. Chromolithographs featured in ‘Le Livre de cuisine’ (“The Royal Cookery Book”) by well-known French chef, Jules Gouffe. Printed in Paris, 1867, the book contains 25chromolithograph plates printed in colour. Images like this chromolithograph plate may have influenced contemporary images of abundant food. As photography became a popular medium, advancements in printing paved the way for easier production.

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