Photographers influenced by still life paintings often take certain elements of these paintings and introduce them into their own work. This is exactly what Berlin-based photographer Karsten Wegener has done….with sausages! Rather than exactly imitate the artworks with sausages in place of the true subject matter, Wegener has either connected sausages to the artwork by replicating the appearance of the objects or has experimented with a combination of different meats, the packaging or a play on the name of a dish. I recently interviewed him for Feature Shoot and you can see the article here…
With Heston Blumenthal being awarded another Michelin star for his restaurant, it seems like there’s no better time for art, food and science. This month sees the release of ‘The Photography of Modernist Cuisine‘ by Nathan Myhrvold, the author’s 3rd book, which looks at the art and science of cooking.
Taking photographs of a meal using Instagram is a far cry from these cross-sections of the insides of pressure cookers and saucepans and macro shots of fruits and fish. What I think is great about this book is the mere size of the photographs. Each double page spread measures at 26″ x 16.3″, much bigger than any lavish cookbook or Donna Hay magazine.
The close up images remind me of Edward Quigley’s six peas in a pod or Irving Penn’s Still Lives for Vogue, where the images are art photographs with food as the subject, observing the beauty and form of each item. Like Carl Warner doing creative things with food by building landscapes, this book uses food in a different, yet exciting way; the cut away pans are something new altogether! The perspective is completely different to anything seen before, especially in food photography. Advancements in food science and technology have allowed the photographer to capture what is happening inside a boiling hot saucepan – this definitely isn’t something we’d have seen in an 18th century still life painting.
The images remind me of Erro’s Food Landscape which I wrote about a few posts back, although Warner’s images speak quite an opposite message to Erro’s.
In Warner’s images, the food is used to create a beautiful landscape, rather then mirroring the goods in a supermarket. There is repetition and crowding of food stuffs like Erro’s Food Landscape but the food looks naturally perfect and carefully selected (as described in some of Warner’s making of’s), rather than insinuating any sort of industrial production process.
Not quite food photography but brilliant nonetheless, I spotted this cookbook ‘How to boil an egg‘ that uses illustrations of food that look just like photographs. The detail in them is outstanding – what an interesting concept! Artist Fiona Strickland illustrated each recipe from photographs of the recipes, taking around 3 weeks each of drawing then painting in watercolour. You can read more about the process here…
Following on from my previous post a few weeks ago, another example painting from the Pop Art movement and how it highlighted mass consumption and consumerism is ‘Food landscape’, painted by Erro in 1964. His painting focuses on repetition and obsessive crowding of foodstuffs. It represents the supermarket consumer society and how food is not imperfect or naturally beautiful anymore but part of a standardized, industrial production process. (Malaguzzi, S. (2008) p59) The way the food is crowded together mirrors the display of goods in a supermarket.
When looking at food as a subject in photography, it’s interesting to consider that still life painters in the 20th century continued to paint food objects, despite photography becoming more popular as a creative medium. In particular, Paul Cezanne focussed his attention on the artistic possibilities in the still life genre.
A switch from realist paintings, the subject of the painting did not necessarily have to resemble anything that actually existed. The general approach to still life painting of the time “tried to probe the potential of the painting medium by experimenting with form and colour, flattening three-dimensional perspective and simplifying composition” (Malaguzzi, S. 2008, p57) Later in the 20th century, food in still life paintings was depicted as a symbol of consumer society. “The industrialized production of food and its display in supermarkets are seen as tangible signs of the violence of capitalism.” (Malaguzzi, S. 2008, p57) Rather than focus on the ingredients like previous still life paintings, packaging and brand labels featured heavily. In particular, the Pop art movement in the 1960s in the United States “denounced the excesses of consumerism, and ironically, celebrated industrially produced food as a primary expression of mass goods whose consumption is obsessively encouraged by advertising.” (Malaguzzi, S. (2008) p57) This can be seen in the well-known work of Andy Warhol, in his depiction of Campbell’s soup cans.
Benning’s images are very surreal, yet beautiful still lives. The arrangement of objects seems random yet meticulously placed, similar to impressionist paintings by Henri Fantin-Latour
In my last post I wrote about a hyper-real 3D artist, Richard Kolker and how he was influenced by Juan Sanchez Cotan’s “Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber”. Another artist influenced by this particular painting is Ori Gersht, who created a HD film piece where a bullet soars through a pomegranate (instead of the quince) creating a visually exciting explosion of seeds and juice, celebrating the fruit’s colour and beauty. His work, along with paintings by Henri Fantin-Latour are currently featured in the Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present exhibition at the National Gallery (open until 20th January).
I visited the exhibition last month and thought it was excellent because it explores how photographers use fine art traditions to influence their own work. Early photographs from the 1800’s and contemporary photographs sit next to historical paintings. Covering a number of traditional genres; portraiture, still life, nudes and landscape, I think the exhibition takes a really interesting look at how influential painting actually is to contemporary photography. My only disappointment was that there wasn’t enough! For the ‘Still Life’ section of the exhibition there were 15 paintings/photographs and a moving image piece by Sam Taylor Wood. Obviously I would have liked to have seen more from this genre! Also it would have been interesting to have seen some supporting text from the photographers stating which elements of the paintings they were stimulated by to see how the photographer was actually influenced by its adjacent painting. Understandably this might not have been possible with some of the older photographs.
Along with images from Ori Gersht and paintings by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, it was great to see such strong influence between imagery. In particular, the very visual link between George Lance’s ‘Fruit (The Autumn Gift) alongside Roger Fenton’s ‘Flowers and Fruit’.
To see 18th century Spanish ‘Still Life with Lemons and Oranges’ by Luis Melendez, alongside Evelyn Hofer’s Oaxaca Jar with Aubergine was an excellent show of how elements of composition and lighting have been drawn on in contemporary photography.
I would definitely recommend visiting this exhibition while it’s still on – the concept and the idea of it alone is inspiring and I think what you take away from the exhibition is knowing how influential fine art traditions can be.
When looking at the history of food photography, sometimes it’s interesting to consider it’s future. Richard Kolker is a ‘synthetic photographer’ who records “virtual light interacting with virtual geometry using a virtual camera”.
Influenced by Juan Sanchez Cotan’s “Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber”, painted in 1602, Kolker uses various 3D modelling and rendering software packages such as Maxon Cinema 4D and Maxwell Render to create his images. Elements of the lighting and careful composition in Cotan’s painting are carried across to Kolker’s work. For him, his virtual camera is much the same as a physical camera, as is his work flow; he still builds a set, lights the scene then photographs it. Even though the images are created using a computer, the same controls and conventions, like aperture/depth of field and exposure are very much present. Photoshop is used, but only for colour correction and contrast rather than any drastic alterations.
Is this the future of food photography? With CGI becoming more popular, will this combination of 3D modelling and rendering eventually end up moving it’s way into food photography? It’s something to think about… You can read more about how Kolker creates his imagery in this article here
I’ve been writing a bit recently about still life for the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year blog and I stumbled upon an exhibition which shows the genre in a whole new light. Despite being quite good at going to exhibitions, I managed to missed this one, but spoke to the wonderful gallery organisers at the Sarah Myerscough Gallery who gave me a little bit of info on the show.
Still life is often overlooked and seen as a boring genre of art so I’m glad that an exhibition has finally been dedicated to it, taking a contemporary look at this historical genre through the work eight different artists. The ‘Still Live’ exhibition showcases a mixture of painting, photography and sculpture to show the artists’ representations of still life.
The work that stood out to me the most was by Spanish photographer, Leticia Felgueroso. She creates a series of images of tables laden with magnificent and colourful feasts which are reminiscent of still life paintings from the 18th century. The images however are slightly surreal as the colours are saturated and the backgrounds create an almost dreamlike scene.
I’m hoping for more exhibitions like this in the future!