Food Photography – Pornography With Cilantro



I’m aware that any weblog title with the word “pornography ” in it will attract the intense interest of the search engines. Also the civil authorities and, possibly, the military command. I wish to assure the powers that be and the powers that hope to be that the post is about food. They’ll have to look further afield for lingerie…

I have a number of books reproducing old advertisements from the 1930’s-1960’s that show advertisements for food products. I have two genuine copies of the American cookbook – ” The Good Housekeeping Cook Book ” from the WWII era as well – and they are profusely illustrated. In all of the commercial work I have seen there is an underlying theme – the good nutrition of the foods displayed.


It was a hard job to make this apparent when the photographers were working in a studio with large format cameras – small apertures, low film sensitivities, complex movements on the cameras had to be coupled with the uncertain nature of the foodstuffs and the primitive methods of preparation. If all that was going to be available was black and white reproduction, the set designers and shooters had to incorporate a great deal of formal artisty into each shot. It became worse, not better, with the venture into carbro colour reproduction – tougher process, more variables, and the artificiality of it all.


Modern work has stepped away from this – you can ring in any colour you want and make a modern digital lens bokeh out anything that is inconvenient. And people have been brought to a cultural point where the appearance of the food is more considered than the nutrition. We really are selling sizzle, whatever the steak is actually made of. There are no end of new cuisines to be touted – some heretofore unknown combination of weeds and puréed cow horn – and they need not be seen on clean plates or level tabletops. Anything that is capable of supporting the glop for long enough to fire the shutter is a suitable backdrop.

Design, as well, has advanced to the point that nothing need look neat or clean. The foodies will presumably be as happy with a pile of sticks as a well-laid table. About the only modern hip trend that has not shown up yet is clipping the top off a portrait sitter’s head – foodists still seem to feature all of the plate – even if it is covered in raw octopus and motor oil.






I am just going to finish up the column with a few scanned pictures from the Good Housekeeping book. Most of what they tell you about actually works and sometimes it even tastes good.


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