Blind Magazine : photography at first sight
Photography at first sight
The Gourmet and the Grotesque

The Gourmet and the Grotesque

This group exhibition at The Photographer’s Gallery in London is about so much more than just food. It brings together work from a broad range of artists; Nobuyoshi Araki, Nan Goldin, Martin Parr, Man Ray, Cindy Sherman, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Weegee. Each of them harness tropes of food photography to express wider themes. The resulting works evoke deep-seated anxieties about wealth, poverty, consumption, tradition, desire, revulsion and domesticity.
 The Faro Caudill Family Eating Dinner in Their Dugout, Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940 © Russell Lee

Organised into three sections; “Still Life”, “Around the Table”, and “Playing with Food”, Feast for the Eyes – The Story of Food in Photography looks in close detail at the visual and social history of food photography. Each section charts a different aspect of the form, looking at its development from painting through to experimentation, and the artistic, social and political contexts that have informed the genre. 

Still Life

When one thinks of food photography, the first thing to come to mind may be stagnant still life images. Bright and Wolff have delved deep to uncover the origins of this early but enduring form of food photography – specifically paintings. And as technology has evolved, these photographs have drawn from food’s new stage; social media. Photographing and sharing images on social media has become integral to our dining experience. People take pictures of their food to signify status, exacerbating a sense of belonging and difference. 

Pineapple and Shadow, 2011 © Daniel Gordon

Photographer Sharon Core combines food photography’s roots in painting with its new platform on the internet, by photographing pictures of food she finds online “Her work is photographs of photographs of paintings,” explains curator Bright in her curator’s tour with The Photographer’s Gallery, “It’s about reproduction, and how we consume images and fine art.”

Around the Table

Looking at what happens when people gather around food, this section explores culture and identity, and utilises materials such as the Time Life foods of the world series, and cook books. “Cook books play off the idea of custom really well,” says Wolff to The Photographer’s Gallery, “For the most part they’re about lifestyle, and that can be both what we aspire to, and how we see ourselves.”

Wolff and Bright have incorporated works that combine food photography and culture into this section, such as Stephen Shore’s iconic photograph of a Macdonald’s hamburger, a quietly monumental image that symbolizes America’s fast food habit. The photograph is reflective of how our cultural identities are displayed through the food we eat, and even the people we eat it with.

Phillip J. Stazzone is on WPA and enjoys his favourtie food, 1940 © Weegee

Playing with Food

“Food can be disgusting and sexy at the same time,” says Bright to The Photographer’s Gallery. “We wanted to get that energy, and that feeling of excess, in the room.” This section deals with the senses; how food smells, feels and even sounds. Playing with Food shows what happens when food photography is infused with humour, fun and irony, and it is definitely the liveliest, most celebratory part of the exhibition.

 Sexy Sliders, 2016 for Gather Journal © Grant Cornett

Utilizing materials that extend far beyond photography, this section features a video by performance artist Carolee Scheemann, which draws a feminist thread into the exhibition, also explored through the works of artists like Cindy Sherman. There is a theme of reclamation, of women taking control over the negative connotations they have been taught to associate with food, and of their domestic role. “Another great example is through the cook booklets,” explains Bright, “where we see a story being sold to women that this is a shortcut, and a way to free up your time, but also to keep you in the kitchen at the same time.” 

This notion of reclamation gives the exhibition a burst of energy. In reality, the exhibition is not really about food photography at all, but how food functions in photography and in society in general. And for whom is the function of food the most complex but for women?

 New Recipes for Good Eating, Crisco, Proctor and Gamble, Cincinnati © Photographer unknown

Spam, 1961 © Ed Ruscha

Untitled, 1994, from the series Forbidden Pleasures © Jo Ann Callis

New Brighton, England, 1983-85 © Martin Parr

By Sarah Roberts

Feast for the Eyes – The Story of Food in Photography

18 October 2019 – 09 February 2020

The Photographer’s Gallery, 16 – 18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW

The exhibition book is available at Aperture.

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