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Culinary Photography: A Feast for the Eyes

Culinary Photography: A Feast for the Eyes

Discover the work of women and non-binary photographers transforming the way we look at food.
Rowdy Romenesco © Lauren Vied Allen

Whoever said, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” never foresaw social media’s obsession with food photography. Our desire to create and share pictures of food speaks to a need to preserve our memories of profound pleasure, no matter how fleeting. But food photography has a long and fascinating history that dates back to the early days of the medium, and has transformed to meet the needs of multiple industries over the past two centuries.

“Food is an extension and expression of ourselves — another version of a selfie. It’s self-documentation: proof that we were here as well as celebration and enjoyment of our varied cultures,” said Keren Sachs, Founder and CEO of The Luupe, who co-curated the new exhibition “Food Visions” with visual director Tracey Woods and Jon Feinstein, Director of Content Strategy, currently on view at Photoville in Brooklyn.

Visualizing Chakras-Chakras © Evi Abeler with set designer Anna Keville Joyce

Bringing together the work of 14 artists including Poupay Jutherat, Jessica Pettway, Evi Abeler, and Penny De Los Santos, « Food Visions » explores the way women and non-binary people are reimagining the art of food photography. Whether treating food as an object of beauty, a delectable treat, a fantastical wonderland, an instrument for living, or a grotesque playground, the photographers featured here delight in breaking the rules to create new ways of thinking about our relationship to food.

An Evolution of Seeing

Throughout history, artists have understood that food plays a tremendous role in our lives. It can represent pleasure, eroticism, extravagance, and wealth, as well as serve as a reminder of the transience of life, a warning of decay, or the perils of gluttony. It may speak to our work ethic, our relation to nature and the landscape, and the transformation of society, as well as offer insight into gender, culture, and class.

BananaMan © Poupay Jutharat

From its inception through the present day, photography shaped our relationship to food and consumption, whether normalizing, romanticizing, exoticizing, or demonizing our connection to it. “We love food and food photography and are inspired by the constant evolution of the genre’s history, especially in the age of social media,” says Keren Sachs.

“What we saw was a new way of thinking about commercial still life photography as a genre —” adds Jon Feinstein, “one that in many cases borrows from other genres and brings a new, exciting, and often humorous energy into the fold. It’s a way of looking that bridges fine art, commercial and documentary photography. An evolution of seeing. Photographers, brands, and publications are getting out of their comfort zones and we’re loving it.”

A Feast for the Eyes

Bag Lady © Akilah Townsend

Although many of the artists in the exhibition consider themselves “Food Photographers,” some work across multiple genres and prefer to simply play with food. Akilah Townsend, widely known as a portrait photographer, brilliantly integrates a bag of oranges into a portrait of a woman. Editorial/street photographer Poupauy Jutharat finds joy in casting food as a clever prop to create new ways of seeing objects of everyday life.

Traditional food photographers like Evi Abeler excel in finding the exquisite beauty of her subject, revealing just how important sight is in the pleasure of dining. Nivi Shaham, on the other hand, invokes the spectacle of sight in her “weird food combinations series” that makes cheese poured on pancakes a surprising delight.

Nacho Pancakes, from the series “Weird Food Combinations” © Nivi Shaham

“Across all of these images, there’s a visceral sense of touch, smell, and maybe even sound. It’s bold, bright, wildly unexpected, yet follows some traditional expectations in its organization of space, form, and commercial lighting. This mix is really inspiring to us,” says Keren Sachs. “There’s openness to less traditional or expected ways of representing food. It’s less about classic traditions becoming obsolete, and more about how new generations borrow from, or reinterpret them with new energy.”

By Miss Rosen

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in books, magazines, including TimeVogueAperture, and Vice, among others.

“The Luupe Presents : Food Visions” is on view at Photoville, Brooklyn, from September 18 – December 21, 2021.

Natures Rainbow Bounty © Penny De Los Santos
Breakfast © Jessica Pettway
Hello-Jello © Siobhan Beasley

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