In Focus: Tasteful Pictures

When food was first used as a subject in photography the images were imitating still life paintings. These images were classed as a form of social documentary, whereby the food was viewed as a cultural item. A collection of these social documentary images were compiled by curator, Virginia Heckert, at the Getty museum‘s photography department, in a recent exhibition titled In Focus: Tasteful Pictures.  She said, “the images are meant to illuminate the history of photography, not just show off what someone ordered in a restaurant. The pictures also are intended to show how the photographers used the technical aspects of their art.” (MacVean, M. 2010 [online]) It is in this exhibition where we can see the first instances of food photography. Among the images are Edward Quigley’s six peas in a pod, taken in black and white, which is an observation of the beauty of the form of peas, paying particular attention to the lighting and shape of the peas.

Edward W. Quigley, Peas in a Pod, 1935

To contrast this, the exhibit includes one of the most notable black and white food photographs, taken by Man Ray in 1931. Titled ‘Kitchen (cuisine)’ it was not commissioned for a food outlet, like a cookbook or magazine, but for a Paris utility company to promote the use of electricity. The advertising campaign was to encourage people to use electricity in their homes. This can be seen in this image, the cooked chicken shows what electricity can do using an electric oven, while the spiral pattern, created using a photogram, communicates a heating element of an oven or more simply, generating electricity in a symbolic form. (MacVean, M. 2010 [online])

Man Ray, Kitchen (cuisine), 1931

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