Feast for the Eyes in Amsterdam and Berlin

Before the winter is out, lovers of food photography might like to take a trip to Foam Museum in Amsterdam, overlooking the canal. Here they will find the exhibition Feast for the Eyes – The Story of Food in Photography.

When it closes on 3 March, the exhibition then travels to Germany, to open at C/O Berlin, near the Tiergarten Park, on 8 June.

Feast for The Eyes – The Story of Food in Photography at Foam / Copyright: Christian van der Kooy / Foam
Peluqeria, 1979 Copyright Ouka Leele

Author & curator Susan Bright

The inspiration behind the exhibition is the eponymous book by Paris-based author and curator, Susan Bright.

One January evening in London, I went along to The Photographers’ Gallery to hear Susan talk about her book and her life as a curator.

Susan Bright pointing to a projected image
Susan Bright at The Photographers’ Gallery, showing a picture of herself, her book, together with Brigitte Macron at Paris Photo. A real coup, given that the French President’s wife tends to bolt through the fair amid a posse of bodyguards.

A chronological compendium

Now, for me, curators are cataloguers of moments in time, creatively linking those moments to form a bigger vision of the world, or, in this case, of food photography.

Feast for the Eyes – The Story of Food in Photography is just that: a chronicle of how food and photography have gone hand in hand since the still lifes by William Henry Fox Talbot – a pioneer of photography – in the 1840s.

The book, published by the not-for-profit Aperture Foundation in New York, has over 250 images, some well known, others not so much. It is a big, bold book that feels good to hold.

As Susan writes, photographs of food “hold our lives and times up to the light”. They are rarely just about food. Meanwhile, food photography at its best “connects us to our dreams and desires,” she writes.

New Brighton, England, 1983-85 Copyright Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

History in a nutshell

For a fast-speed tour of the history of food photography:

  • Early photographs feature in “two parallel histories” – art and cookbooks, Susan writes in Food for the Eyes.
  • Commercial food photography found its roots in the 1940s with the arrival of illustrated magazines and packaged foods.
  • The emergence of Conceptual art in the 1960s-70s led food photography into a world of “comic effect”, “performance” and “visual playfulness”.
  • The dawn of the digital age saw the rise of the celebrity chef and the ‘foodie culture’. Cookbooks became coffee-table books and artists turned to “deconstruction, collage, montage and appropriation” as a comment on the ubiquity of food images found on the Internet.
Phillip J Stazzone is on WPA and Enjoys His Favorite Food as He’s Heard That the Army Doesn’t Go in Very Strong for Serving Spaghetti, 1940 Copyright Weegee /International Center of Photography, Courtesy of Ira and Suzanne Richer

Food for thought (& anxiety)

As well as deep-seated pleasure and satisfaction, food photography, like food, can invoke “deep-seated questions and anxieties”. These anxieties include the likes of consumption, wealth, poverty, revulsion, domesticity, and the list in the book goes on.

Often these questions and anxieties are very personal. In Feast for the Eyes, the images of post-Second World War domestic bliss in Betty Crocker’s Picture Book reignite my memories of my mother trying to turn me into marriageable material by teaching me how to cook … I resisted, and still do.

In turn, the Spam photograph by Ed Ruscha fills me with revulsion, as I was forced to eat Spam at school. The very sight of Spam in a photograph still makes me feel sick. Luckily Ruscha’s picture is in black and white.

Tin of spam cut in half
Spam (Cut in Two), 1961 Copyright: Ed Ruscha / Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery

My favourite images in Feast for the Eyes

The opposite of good is not bad – it is indifference, so I accept that images of domestic bliss and Spam are not about ‘bad’ art.

So here are my top photos from the book…

For beauty:

  1. Pepper No 30 – Edward Weston (1930)
  2. Milk Drop Coronet – Harold Edgerton (1957)
  3. Nothing to Lose I – Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1989)
  4. Untitled, Illuminance – Rinko Kawauchi (2009)
  5. Red #1, Dalston Anatomy – Lorenzo Vitturi (2013)

For playfulness:

  1. Self-portrait with fried eggs – Sarah Lucas (1996)
  2. Self-portrait with 80 Cakes – Tim Walker (2008)
  3. #fishy #donut #divers #thingsarequeer – Joseph Maida (2015
#fishy #donut #divers #thingsarequeer, December 1, 2015
Copyright: Joseph Maida

My take on food photography

When does food photography become art? For me, I follow the words of Thomas Merton, the American monk and author: art is when the image enables us to find ourselves and loose ourselves at the same time.

Too much of anything numbs the senses: too much food porn = more takeaways and ready meals; too much sex porn = the need to stretch for the Viagra.

The best food magazines

I find myself and loose myself in the beautifully shot and seductive images found in food magazines such as Fool from Stockholm, The Gourmand from London, and Gather Journal and Brutal (food & fashion) in the US.

Food on Instagram

One of my favourite foodie Instagram feeds is that of Cédric Grolet, the resident pastry chef at the 5-star Le Meurice Hotel in Paris, who has 1.1 million followers. This is food as lifestyle, but I can tell you, after tasting Cédric’s ‘black lemon’ while in Paris last autumn, every bite is DIVINE! I found myself and lost myself with every bite.

Chef holding whisk full of egg white
Over 69,000 ‘likes’ for one Instagram photo by Cédric Grolet

Credit for main featured image: Feast for The Eyes – The Story of Food in Photography at Foam / Copyright: Christian van der Kooy / Foam

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