Food photography and the political climate

We’ve seen that many factors influence food photographers and their work but what about influence from politics? I recently came across a radio show called The Food Seen on the Heritage Radio Network (based in Brooklyn, NY) which discusses just that.

In this particular show, prop stylist, Francine Matalon-Degni’s talks about a piece she contributed to Gastronomica magazine (Summer 2010 Volume 10 No3) which discusses trends she encountered in food photography from the 1980’s to recent times. She’s noticed a natural correlation between food photography and political regime and touches on the US political climate and considers how this has affected the aesthetics seen in food magazines. She recalls at around the time of the Bush administration, composition of the food images was very unsettling; objects were juxtaposed and you couldn’t actually see the food. There was a tendency for the sets to be over-propped and Francine suggests that this is because in politics, the US was “not able to see the truth in the matter” with regards to Iraq and weapons of mass destruction.

She compared this to food photography of the 1980’s – early 1990’s when Ronald Regan then George H. W. Bush was president. At this time it was all about setting the mood. Props were almost like ‘toys’. She recalls sourcing suitcases to put cookies in and crotchet mallets and ribbons to decorate the tables. Each set was like a lavish fantasy-land and she thinks this reflected on the US economic climate. Things were expensive so the food photography mirrored that.

They then discuss the beginning of the Presidency of Barack Obama where Francine found that everything was being propped with yellow items as this is widely considered as the colour of ‘Hope’. Her and food stylist Rick Ellis recall a Bon Appetit cover that year that used the same style cake and props as they had done a few years previously. Trying to appeal to both a young audience and their established reader base, Rick argues that there was confusion about what to put on the December cover as this reflected on the fact things were very confusing in political climate.

The show goes on further to discuss trends in food styling that Rick Ellis has come across as well as Donna Hay’s influence on food photography, elements of which I’ve touched upon in previous blog posts.

The full recording can be heard here. The Food Seen is a weekly show (with an extensive back catalog of episodes) that covers many areas of food and culture so it’s definitely worth a browse and a listen!