Martin Chaffer – Country Kitchen

Emphasis on ‘lifestyle’ seemed to be key to food photography in the 1980’s as shown in one of Martin Chaffer’s photographs that he shot for a Marks and Spencer brochure featuring cookware in 1988. The importance of food and prop stylists was part of the significant transition into better quality images, where sets were dressed beautifully to accompany the dishes. The convincing set of a country kitchen took three days and two teams to build it. The scene is composed of multiple exposures of the fire and other parts of the set, which were spotlighted with separate hot, tungsten lights. Quality of lighting was and is an important aspect of any food image to provide the right atmosphere. Though studio flash had been invented in the early 1970’s, it was expensive to use flash to light food, particularly on an editorial budget. In order to combat these hot lamps, food stylists employed a number of techniques to make the food look its best. The centrepiece – the chicken, was prepared by being undercooked to keep it firm then brushed with caramel to brown it.
Martin Chaffer, Country Kitchen, ca 1988.
It could be argued these ‘lifestyle’ images used in food photography had a psychological effect. Robert Wigington felt that “the picture should conjure up an aura. The average person doesn’t stop to think about the dish when it is placed in front of him, he simply goes ahead and eats it. The photograph, however, can make the same person take the time to examine details, to stress associations, to tantalize the senses.” (Plimmer, C 1988, p132) The image, then, represents the lifestyle that the viewer aspires to have; in this case it is indicated by the décor of the inset window, the wooden table and the lit fireplace. The set suggests a lavish manor kitchen, filled with desirable cookware and fresh ingredients.

Martha Stewart and Japanese Colour Printing

Cover of Martha Stewart’s 1982 ‘Entertaining’

There were fundamental changes in food photography in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Japanese  technological advances modernized colour printing, providing better clarity of colour in images. The improved precision of the colours used to make the printing plates changed the possibilities of reproducing food images. More magenta, cyan and yellow meant that the amount of black ink usually used was reduced, making the colours brighter and punchier. The technique was so significant that in 1982, homemaking guru Martha Stewart “insisted not only on Japanese printing, but also on photographs of every dish for her first book, Entertaining, because as a caterer, she knew that the look of the food was what connected imaginations to the sense of taste” (Shakely, L. n.d. [online])

You can see more images from inside of the 1982 edition of ‘Entertaining’ here


Roland Barthes – Panzani advertisement

Prior to 1977, nothing had been written on the importance or significance of food photography and the symbols used in advertising photography. This changed when Roland Barthes wrote an interesting analysis of a Panzaniadvertisement highlighting the importance of images used in advertising “because in advertising the signification of the image is undoubtedly intentional; the signifieds of the advertising messages are formed a priori by certain attributes of the product and these signifieds have to be transmitted as clearly as possible” (Barthes, R. 1977, p 270) He looked at the image in terms of semiology and how we decode a food image and referred to the connotations given in the choice of props, colours and composition. The image shows a scene represented as the return from the market – fresh produce, suggestion of domestic preparation, and a half-open bag, spilling open.
Panzani advertisement.
Barthes refers to the composition of the image, relaying back to the influence of still life paintings on food photography “evoking the memory of innumerable alimentary paintings, sends us to an aesthetic signified: the ‘nature morte’” or ‘still life’”. The image tries to give the viewer a sense of having-been-there, and the photograph acts as ‘evidence’ of this. “A kind of natural being-there of objects: nature seems spontaneously to produce the scene represented.” (Barthes, R, 1977, p279) It is this actuality that seems to be the general rule for food photographers when producing images.