World Photography Day – How our celebration of food photography began…
As part of World Photography Day, Caroline Kenyon, Founder and Director of the Awards, reflects on the origins of her idea for a celebration of food photography and the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year story so far…
Caroline Kenyon greeting guests at the Champagne Taittinger Awards Evening for Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2023
How did you first become interested in photography?
I've loved photography all my life. My mother was a journalist, so, as a child. our home was always full of newspapers and, at the weekend, of colour supplements illustrated with incredible images. On a Saturday, it was a special treat to be allowed to read at the table over lunch! I would wait with great anticipation, until my parents had looked first at the magazines, which they would then pass over to me and my brother. My mother showed me portraits by the great Jane Bown in the Observer and Lord Snowdon in the Sunday Times magazine and, although I was little, I understood that they were really important people doing important work.
Sometimes her friend Marti Friedlander, the great New Zealand photographer, would visit. She gave my mother a copy of her extraordinary book Moko, her tribute to Maori women, which I looked at over and over again. The women's faces looked out at me from the pages, their gaze bold and disconcerting. I saw, without fully understanding, the power of photography to generate emotion.
I tried to take pictures with my little plastic Kodak camera, the film would be taken in to the local Boots the Chemist and sent away for developing. The results, when the prints came back weeks later, were invariably disappointing. In my head, I could envisage the shot, I was Snowdon in my head. But the photos were largely dreadful. So I learned that the oft quoted trope ‘anyone can be a photographer’ is untrue. It is one of the highest of art forms.
What sparked the idea for an awards celebrating food photography?
A whole host of things came together. I moved from London to Lincolnshire, one of the UK's great agricultural counties, with my husband and a five-day old baby. I left a magazine editing job which I’d loved, where I used to look at photographers’ portfolios every week and did all the picture selection myself including the cover shot. That really cemented my love of photography.
In Lincolnshire, I set up a PR agency specialising in food and, of course, commissioned a great deal of photography for our clients. Sometimes I would look at the images after a shoot and think, That’s a great shot, I wish there were an awards to enter it into, what a shame there’s nothing suitable.
But when my son was 12, he became very seriously interested in photography and every autumn we would religiously go to the Natural History Museum in London to see Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Then, I heard the great broadcaster Sheila Dillon on BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme announce she was going to do not one but two programmes on food photography. This was very unusual for her, normally it was a single programme on a particular subject. I knew this meant food photography must be significant. (Her guest, by the way, was Liz Galbraith, then Creative Director of BBC Good Food magazine - I tracked her down and she has been a judge for the Awards ever since!).
I was ready to do something more than PR, I wanted it to be global and I wanted it to be meaningful.
I could see food photography everywhere - cookery books, blogs, menus, advertising, packaging, sides of lorries. After a very difficult phone call with a client, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, That’s it, an international awards for food photography, modelled on Wildlife Photographer of the Year, with its great range of categories, showing how food touches every aspect of our lives around the world. And so it began.
The category winners of Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2019 at the Awards Evening at The Mall Galleries, London. Credit: Henry Kenyon
What do the Awards aim to achieve?
It’s a long list. But right out there at the front is to celebrate photographers and their work in a field which had hitherto been overlooked. There were awards for wildlife photographers, landscape, travel, garden, architecture - but nothing for food. To showcase the amazing work of these artists on our website, in our exhibition, in the press, on social media. And for the photographers to receive not only the acclamation they so deserve but also to create opportunities for them they would never otherwise have received.
Then, in equal ranking, the wish is to shine a light on every way in which food impacts our lives, from the hard yards of farming, growing and producing food, the sorrow of deprivation and hunger, to the joy of community and celebration. To show that food in its widest sense can be the prism through which all life is seen and understood.
And the wish to support our partner charity Action Against Hunger, for which we have fundraised through the On the Phone category since the beginning. They do such incredible work feeding children in dangerous areas around the world.
A double-page spread in The Guardian of ‘Cauldron Noodles’ by Jianhui Liao, the Overall Winner of Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2019. Credit: Henry Kenyon
What’s been your greatest moment since the Awards’ inception in 2011?
There are so many!
Some stand out moments - during the 2020 lockdown, hearing that our partner the United Nations World Food Programme had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I and my team were ecstatic. We feel so honoured to have a partnership with such an incredible organisation and for it to be honoured in this way gave us so much joy.
Seeing stunning photos from the Awards hanging on banners through the city of Chicago earlier this year, as the hero images for the James Beard Foundation Awards - and then again, flanking an enormous screen at the Lyric Opera house on which Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was delivering his message of support to the James Beard Foundation and an audience of 1600 people.
When the big coverage comes in, sending waves of excitement. Such as when there was a segment on the Awards on one of America’s biggest TV news programmes, when a winning photographer was featured on the biggest radio station in the world, BBC World Service, and when we were name checked in the hit Netflix series, Emily in Paris.
So many more moments, many of them very moving and very personal for our photographers and for us. The Awards has created a huge international family for me and my team - a family of photographers, judges, sponsors and partners - a source of great pleasure to us all.
‘Kebabiyana’, the 2022 Overall Winner of Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year by Debdatta Chakraborty, on screens during an address by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to the James Beard Foundation and an audience of 1600 people
What is your hope for the Awards moving forwards?
That we continue to grow in reach - more participants, young and old, more opportunities to show their wonderful images, more partners and more ways in which we can help people in different ways.
That the multitude of stories the images tell help to change thinking about food, about people and about the planet for the better.
Enjoy a journey through the photography we have celebrated in the Awards over the years in our online galleries.
- A Judge’s thoughts on “What makes a good commercial photographer?” September 4, 2023
- World Photography Day - How our celebration of food photography began… August 18, 2023
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