Jason Hindley and Knorr Stock Pots


A while ago I spotted this Knorr Stock Pot ad shot by photographer Jason Hindley,in the style of a 1970’s cookbook. I think this is a fairly accurate interpretation of some of the images of the time. Here’s a link to the original blogpost on Jason Hindley’s blog

The image reminded me of a blog I’ve been following; ‘The Way We Ate‘. The blog is written by Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz, two photographers from New York, who each week re-create and photograph recipes from their collection of old Gourmet magazines. The blog mixes their own photographs with old covers and advertisements from the magazine like the image here.

It’s great to see how contemporary photographers are influenced by this1970’s style imagery.


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.

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


Food styling in 1960’s…

The aesthetics of the food images at this time are interesting to consider. Ice cream was substituted with mash potatoes and papier-mâché mock-ups were sometimes used instead of real poultry. (Plimmer, C, 1988)  These substitutions were a result of hot studio lamps but as cameras and film speed and sensitivity improved, more genuine food products were introduced. (I will go more into food styling in the upcoming blog posts as there is so much to cover on this subject alone!)
“You can find out more – and more quickly- about the history and culture of a nation by looking at its food than in any other way. Food is a direct expression of a country’s spirit” (Tessa Traeger in Plimmer, C, 1988). It is clear that food trends were reflected in current trends in society, particularly by the rise of cookbooks in the mid 20th century. 
There were radical changes in colour photography in the late 1970’s to early 1980’s. It was transformed by Japanese colour printing which gave a much better clarity of colour to the images. (Shakely, L. n.d. [online]) 

George De Gennaro on Food Photography

George De Gennaro, pasta photograph in Eastman's Kodak's Applied Photography, 1963

George De Gennaro, pasta photograph in Eastman’s Kodak’s Applied Photography, 1963

Photographer George De Gennaro began photographing food in the 1950s. Upon reflection he commented that “In those days, the pictures looked as though they were taken from the top of a ladder, six or eight food away. And the food was so artificially doctored up that it gave the profession a horrible name” (Plimmer, C, 1988, p52) Perhaps it is these technical aspects that meant food photography of this period was not taken seriously as an art genre. Directly influenced by still life painters and a regular contributor to Better Homes and Garden magazine in the 1970’s, he chose to capture food from a different angle, coming in close and capturing movement. A pasta photograph, published in Eastman Kodak’s Applied Photography shot in 1963, shows this technique of freezing motion. Shooting in one day, using 10 large format exposures, Gennaro used one 3200 watt/seconds flash, reflecting the light back in using reflectors. It was shot at f32 at 1/50 of a second using Kodak Ektachrome 64 film. What is significant about this image is that it demonstrates the same painterly skill of 17th century still life, and is clearly influenced by the effects of lighting used by impressionist painters of the 19th century.