Food styling and ice cream

Food styling is a fascinating subject, particularly in the 1980’s. Food stylists’ technical handiwork is crucial to food photography as an art form. A notoriously difficult product to photograph is ice cream, particularly in the 1980’s – it would melt too quickly under the hot studio lights and wouldn’t last long enough for test shots to be done on Polaroid before the actual shot. Production costs were much higher so ‘fake’ food was often used to combat this.

Bradley Olman, Dietary Ice cream, ca 1988

Bradley Olman shot this image of a table laden with ice cream for It’s Me, an American advertorial magazine available in Lane Bryant department stores for plus-size women. The article listed a number of recipes for dietary ice cream however the dishes of ‘ice cream’ were in fact “artfully coloured flour-and-water fake”. All the other food in the set up was real. Olman said, “To make it all look thick and rich enough took forever. We had to get the right texture and put the ridges in.” (Plimmer, C. 1988, p104) He worked on the set with two assistants, a food stylist and the magazine editor to achieve this aesthetically ‘perfect’ image. Some may argue that this is misleading to a consumer but the aim was always to strive for aesthetic perfection and not reality. When looking at images of food, it has to be taken into account the amount of time and effort that is put in to make the food last long enough for the photographer to capture it in the best possible light and setting. Delores Custer, who started out as a food stylist in the 1970’s comments “food dies…it wilts, it cracks, it melts, it changes colour. So food stylists have to work to each element’s particular life-span, keeping everything alive until shoot time, even resuscitating it to make it look beautiful for the camera.” (Goldwasser, A. 1998, p58, (1)) She adds “visually, the thing that appeals is consistency in arrangement”. It is this consistency in arrangement that forces us to liken such food images to still life paintings of the 17th and 18th century.

(1) Goldwasser, A. (1998) “Fashion Plate” I.D. Magazine of International Design,Vol. 45 Issue 6 pp 58-59.

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