09/10/12

Why are cookbooks selling better than ever?

I read a great article over the weekend in The Independent about how cookbook sales are actually better than ever, despite thousands of recipes being readily available online. The article highlights a point I’ve made in few past blog posts on the importance of food photography in cookbooks. It seems the demand for “tomes full of colourful images and dazzling prose remains high…..They are for inspiration and pleasure, just as much as they are for the recipes.” (Orr, G. 2012, [online])

When asked about how looking at cookbooks compares to, say, reading recipes on a Kindle, Philip Stone, charts editor at The Bookseller remarked “Those big, weighty, glossy, lavishly-illustrated cookbooks by your Jamies and Nigellas look like a dog’s dinner on a Kindle, and I think home chefs would much rather their cheap paperback books get accidentally splattered with pasta sauce than their shiny iPads.”

On Amazon there’s a list of the top cookbooks coming out this Autumn – all of which contain food photographs to illustrate the recipes. It is great to see how important food photography is to people when buying cookbooks. In the late ’90’s illustrated cookbooks became more popular than those that were unillustrated. “A bookstore owner lamented to me that although she kept steering newlyweds to un-illustrated cookbooks with thousands of recipes, no one wanted them. They wanted the full-on close-ups of perfectly placed chanterelles or even French toast. They expected to be made hungry between meals.”(Shakely, L. n.d. [online]) – It seems that this still rings true today!

09/10/12

Why are cookbooks selling better than ever?

I read a great article over the weekend in The Independent about how cookbook sales are actually better than ever, despite thousands of recipes being readily available online. The article highlights a point I’ve made in few past blog posts on the importance of food photography in cookbooks. It seems the demand for “tomes full of colourful images and dazzling prose remains high…..They are for inspiration and pleasure, just as much as they are for the recipes.” (Orr, G. 2012, [online])

When asked about how looking at cookbooks compares to, say, reading recipes on a Kindle, Philip Stone, charts editor at The Bookseller remarked “Those big, weighty, glossy, lavishly-illustrated cookbooks by your Jamies and Nigellas look like a dog’s dinner on a Kindle, and I think home chefs would much rather their cheap paperback books get accidentally splattered with pasta sauce than their shiny iPads.”

On Amazon there’s a list of the top cookbooks coming out this Autumn – all of which contain food photographs to illustrate the recipes. It is great to see how important food photography is to people when buying cookbooks. In the late ’90’s illustrated cookbooks became more popular than those that were unillustrated. “A bookstore owner lamented to me that although she kept steering newlyweds to un-illustrated cookbooks with thousands of recipes, no one wanted them. They wanted the full-on close-ups of perfectly placed chanterelles or even French toast. They expected to be made hungry between meals.”(Shakely, L. n.d. [online]) – It seems that this still rings true today!

06/11/12

Photographing Food as Art – Cooking with the Seasons by Fred Maroon

While little has been written on the subject of food photography, a significant documentary was produced in 2006 by the Audio Visual Artists’ Productions, titled Photographing Food as Art. Inside the studio kitchen of Fred Maroon, the chef/photographer team worked on Jean-Louis Palladin’s book Cooking with the Seasons, published in 1989.

This interesting 55-minute film shows how chef and photographer work together and their techniques for creating each photograph. Viewed in retrospect, the film was produced in 2006, but was filmed around 20 years earlier so photographer Fred Maroon shots on 35mm transparency ‘Ektachrome 64’ film, using two rolls of film per food setting. A small aperture captures all the detail of the food compensated by six Diana strobe lights for most shots. The sets are not propped; no utensils, wine, or props in background; the images are only food on reflective acrylic tabletops. Varied lighting and arranged garnishes create interesting compositions for each dish, making images resemble pieces of artwork.

Fred Maroon, Cooking with the seasons, 1989

The image above shows symmetry, patterns and rich colour, sharing principles of modernist art pieces. This film shows the first chef/photographer partnership, at least 20 years before its popularity. Interestingly this collaboration is very different to working with a food stylist. Then, most food for photography wasn’t suitable for consumption but in this documentary Fred Maroon eats the food directly off the set. It is in this film that food photography as a genre is taken seriously because each food photograph was considered not only to accompany each recipe but also for its aesthetic quality which was crucial for the book. The book wasn’t rushed either, the team worked for three years ensuring the images were perfect. Not just a cookbook; it’s a beautiful art book as well. (Slade, R. 2006, DVD)

05/28/12

Chef and Photographer; How this partnership has influenced food photography

Partnerships of chef and photographer were key in changing how food was photographed, moving away from food porn. While food stylists created a dish for longevity on a shoot, chefs like Jean Louis Palladin created dishes to be eaten. Taking photographs was secondary. Photographer Robert Freson (Plimmer, C. 1988, p48) celebrates this style of shooting “creativity is the chef’s province, the photographer merely records it”. Preferring ingredients in natural state, he feels that food shouldn’t be interfered with too much.  

Image sourced from Great Food Photos

This partnership is also seen between Jamie Oliver & David Loftus, who regularly shoots for Jamiemagazine and shot many of Jamie’s cookbooks before the magazine launched in 2009. Significantly, food publishing has maintained the same template for decades. Typically magazines show large photographs of food on glossy paper. Jamie magazine instead prints on unconventional matt paper, mixing travel reportage with food. “It looks accessible but aspirational at the same time, quite a feat” (Leslie, J. 2010, p54). This view of real food and the chef/photographer partnership promotes more natural-looking food.

05/21/12

Food Porn

Food photography shifted in 2004 when Marks and Spencer‘s memorable television campaign pushed ‘food porn’ into the spotlight. No longer were we seeing shots with shallow depth of field and clean white backgrounds; movement and texture became the key aspects of interest. Seductive voice-overs accompanied oozing, chocolate puddings, drizzled sauces and meat being craved. Juices trickled in slow motion, intensifying the portrayal.

Still from “Not just food, M&S; Food”, RKCR/Y&R;, Launched August 2004

‘Food porn’ had been used in food photography since the late 1980’s but was coined as “Gastroporn” by Michael Boys, a food and female nude photographer. His term described sensually provocative and intentionally alluring imagery in cookery books. The imagery appeals to “basic carnal desires” (Plimmer, C. 1988, p20) Food writer Nigel Slater recalls a shoot for French Marie Claire magazine, where chef, Jean-Louis created a dish of pears in red wine. The photograph captured a trail of sauce dribbling down the side of a pear. (Dillon, S. 2010 [radio]). Such images were so popular with “advertisements telling us that we can ‘indulge’ in eating things that we ‘shouldn’t’. The cunning and powerful allure of food reaches us covertly” (Kuehn, G. in ed Allhoff et al, 2007, p166). These tempting, visual stimuli of erotically suggestive food greatly increased the popularity of food. Jane Lerner remarks, food porn “turns something relatively mundane into a fetish, as if we’re seeking an idealized version of food that’s prettier, sexier and more outrageous than what we’re going to get at home.” (2009, p20). Typing ‘Food porn’ into Google today returns 17,300,000 (744,000 in 2010) results. Launched in January 2007, Tastespotting, an online archive of user-submitted images compiled by a team of editors describes itself as “our obsessive, compulsive collection of eye-catching images that link to something deliciously interesting on the other side.”(2007, [online]) Similarly, websites Foodgawker, (launched in June 2008), Recipes2Share and Open Source Food fill the demands for mouth-watering images. Photographer Tim Hill shared this desire to stir viewers’ senses. “If you look at a shot and your mouth waters, I’ve won. When you eat the food you can see it, smell it, taste it, touch it. I can’t show all that. I can only show what it looks like. I’m trying to make the image as graphic and interesting as possible so that it says ‘Eat me’” (Hill, T. in Smyth, D. 2007, p15) 1.

Around the same time, came a contrasting trend of much more natural-looking food that wasn’t so pornographic.  There were two very different styles of photography but there is always going to be room for both, largely due to the audience who buy food magazines. If you take a look at images in what was formerly Waitrose Food Illustrated (now Waitrose Kitchen) and compare them to FamilyCircle or Good Housekeeping it’s like viewing porn magazines to needle patterns. 

(1 sourced from Diane Smyth, (2007) “Food Rules”, British Journal of Photography, Vol. 154, July 11, pp 14-16.)

03/8/12

Food photography in magazines

Food photography as a genre proliferated as magazines dedicated to food started to appear in the late 1980’s. “A food magazine’s cover photography should convey something about the way we eat, or the way we’re supposed to eat.” (Dickerman, S. 2006 [online]) Food photography in the 1980’s shifted from mere illustration to lifestyle, reflected by society when many had a higher disposable income; there was a trend of very heavily dressed lifestyle shots. Gourmetmagazine, in particular, always had a glossy cover of a debonair dish with detailed props. Dickerman remembers the “tablescapes of the ’80s when, in the thrall of both nouvelle cuisine and an Aaron-Spelling-like consumer exhibitionism, presentation mattered.” 25 years ago magazines and cookery books ran double page spreads with several dishes in them, the emphasis being on an atmospheric photograph. The focus then was on ambiance and lifestyle, rather than just the single food product.
In the 1980’s, everything in the frame was glossy and in focus. While Gourmet magazine conquered the US market, such lifestyle images paved the way for magazines dedicated to food in the UK. In November 1989, the first food magazine was launched, BBC Good Food magazine, which published recipes from a number of BBC cookery shows, like Food and Drink (1982 – 2001). What is significant about this is that prior to the release of Good Foodmagazine, there were no magazines dedicated to just food, yet the popularity in cookery television shows sparked a consumer demand for such a magazine. While the picture content of the first issue is rather minimal, the magazine was filled with glossy food advertisements in order to fund the magazine through its first issue. 
Laurie Evans, BBC Good Food Magazine cover, Issue 1, November 1989.
After the first few issues in 1990, the magazine grew its picture content, funded by bigger budgets. The covers always had a white background, with the food shot in studio, showing a single dish, sometimes with a side or decorative plate. This consistency was arguably to establish brand recognition in the consumer market, rather than a lack of aesthetic experimentation. The magazine proved popular and, after running for five years, coloured backgrounds appeared on the cover with multiple food dishes, emphasising lifestyle (shown below) and not just the single food dish.
Martin Brigdale, BBC Good Food magazine cover, Christmas issue, December 1993.
The brand became well established after the success of the annual BBC Good Food show in Birmingham, responsible for the popularity of celebrity chefs like Gary Rhodes and eventually launched a sister magazine, Vegetarian Good Food.
12/18/11

Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook

1st Edition, 1950

Arguably, the most revolutionary cookbook of the 1950’s was the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, which contained lavish colour photography. While the first edition of the book is no longer in print, there are mixed views on the significance of this illustrated cookbook. There were a substantial amount of photographs but the aesthetic quality was perhaps quite poor. However, the use of food photography in this commercial outlet was significant, marking a rise in production, thus a rise in a need for food photographs. None the less, Betty Crocker was still a significant character in cookery at the time. A fictional character created by the Washburn-Crosby Company in 1921, created as an advertising tool to make the company more personable. Prior to publishing the ‘Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook’ various promotional pamphlets and baking books without colour photographs were released in the 1930’s and 40’s to aid war-time cooking. (Jarvits, J. n.d. [online]) 

Even cookbooks aimed at young cooks started to incorporate photography. Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cook Book (for the Hostess and Host of Tomorrow) in 1955 had step-by-step instructions line drawings and number of black and white shots. “there were beauty shots clearly meant to inspire the young chef—burgers, shakes, french toast. But the printing was poor and I don’t remember being inspired enough to, as the editors suggested, “fill up the family cookie jar.” (Shakely, L. n.d. [online]) While food photography was starting to appear more and more in cookbooks and magazines, it didn’t necessarily mean that these photographs had a better aesthetic quality than the previous illustrations. 


With thanks to Amy Alessio for her knowledge on vintage cookbooks!
11/16/11

19th Century Still Life Painting and Chromolithographs

While photography was still in its early stages of development, 19th century still life paintings saw a “radical renewal” (Malaguzzi, S. 2008, P 55), no longer just private commissions, but experimentations by French impressionist artists. The transition was ‘radical’ because the French painters of this time had the view that all aspects of daily or mundane human life deserved the same aesthetic attention, including food. The heightened level of value placed on food and its aesthetics was new, and was added to other aspects of interest from the 17th century that reappeared in the 19th century, such as the focus on light and the subject matter as indicators of class and status. Impressionist artists, like Monet and Manet, and painter-friend Fantin-Latour, endeavoured to capture the effects of light on the form and colour of the food subjects. Impressionism in still life paintings focussed on consumption and indication of class where the painter created a seemingly natural arrangement of objects despite meticulous arrangement. This radical renewal of the genre by the Impressionist movement was arguably a reaction to the newly established medium of photography. Impressionists focussed on “developing into an art form its very subjectivity in the conception of the image, the very subjectivity that photography eliminated.” (Levinson, P, 1997, p47) Rather than mirroring a scene like early still life photographs, artists aimed to subjectively depict their own visual experience. This can be seen in the work Henri Fantin-Latour, a key painter of this period, who painted ‘Still Life: Corner of a Table’ in 1873. The painting is his perception of a moment in bourgeois Parisian life, showing key indicators of class and lifestyle.

Henri Fantin Latour, Still life: Corner of a Table, 1873.

A considered effort has been taken to create a natural, random arrangement of the objects. The painting is very detailed and realistic and is reminiscent of still life paintings from the 18th century by Jean Simeon Chardin. The composition of the painting is of clear importance “The rhododendron prominently placed in the foreground joins the elements resting on the table, which are in turn silhouetted, frieze-like, against the dark background. By contrast, the white tablecloth shows off and brings visually forward to stunning effect the pink-tinged blossoms that reach up to the golden orbs of fruit in the compotier” (Rathbone, E, E. 2001, p100) As we will see, the way this informal scene was composed to suggest lifestyle, status and class, is now crucial to modern food and lifestyle magazines.

This could also been seen in Victorian England where “…the still life of gastronomic plenty seems to have enjoyed resurgent popularity.” (Garwood, N. and Voigt, R. 2001, p148). The first instance of food illustrations, published as special plates in the illustrated London News, in 1860, may have influenced contemporary images of plentiful amounts of food.

Fresh fruit chromolithograph plate issued with the illustrated London news, 1860

In the same decade, chromolithographs were featured in ‘Le Livre de cuisine’ (“The Royal Cookery Book”) written by Jules Gouffe, a well-known French chef. (Garwood, N. and Voigt, R. 2001, p167). Printed in Paris in 1867 the cookery book contains 25 chromolithograph platesprintedincolour. This is arguably the beginning of food illustrations being used in cookbooks and, significantly, appears to emerge concurrently with the ‘radical renewal’ of the French Impressionist’s interest.

Although black and white pictures began to appear in early printed cookery books, the process was slow. Professional photographers used the half-tone process for cheaper reproduction. By breaking up the images into a series of dots, it was much easier to reproduce the full tonal range of a photograph in printed matter. As photography became a popular medium, advancements in printing techniques paved the way for easier production.

Although food was appropriated as a subject in photography, still life painters in the 20th century continued painting food as the genre maintained its popularity. Developments in printing techniques paved the way for photographic printing in newspapers and magazines yet the aesthetics of still life paintings were still seen and reflected upon in commercial food photography magazines of the 20th century. Aspects of realism, painterly skill, effects of light, composition and arrangement, allegory and meaning, and indicators of lifestyle and class were all elements of modern of still life painting and as we will see, were mirrored in commercial food photography.