This Cookbook Was Made By Famous Photographers

What happens when fine art photographers compile a cookbook

Photos of food are hard to miss. A tap of the finger, and you're on Instagram or Pinterest, your feed flooded with doughnuts oozing Nutella, flat lays of brunch featuring vibrant coffee cups and mountains of avocado toast, and cheese pulls out the wazoo. You probably even visit your favorite food media sites for a hefty dose of "food porn."

Imagine a time when food images were captured on film, with emphasis placed on the personal stories behind the meals as opposed to the styling of a dish. The Photographer's Cookbook is a newly released collection of unretouched food photos—and recipes—from some of the world's most distinguished photographers.

An assemblage of archival images collected by the George Eastman Museum, the project has been 40 years in the making. In 1977, Deborah Barsel, assistant registrar at the George Eastman House, placed a note in the museum's magazine requesting photographers to submit their favorite food images and treasured recipes. Unfortunately, the project was shelved upon Barsel's enrollment in grad school shortly thereafter.

It was Lisa Hostetler, ‎curator in charge of the museum's Department of Photography, who found a box labeled Photo Cookbook a few years ago and set the The Photographer's Cookbook back in motion. Describing the collection as a "virtual time capsule" of the 1970s photography community, Hostetler's introduction reaffirms Barsel's original inspiration: "Photographers' talent in the darkroom must also translate into special skills in the kitchen." The book has finally been released, featuring images and text from Richard Avedon to Brassaï.

Some 50-odd photos and recipes are elegantly staged, like hot dogs "In Full Dress;" others are deeply personal snapshots—a cup of tea sitting on the roof of a car, a butter-yellow dining room with mismatched chairs and stainless steel napkin holders.

The recipe descriptions are just as riveting. Robert Heinecken, a self-described "para-photographer," gives the instructions for his stiffest martini (see the recipe below), advising that the drink not be sipped before 11 in the morning; for Bea Nettles's Nettles Soup, the cook is instructed not to purchase but to "pick a quantity of tender nettle leaves . . . [wearing] rubber gloves to avoid being stung." But hands down, the most entertaining response to the project is from John Gossage, who simply sent Barsel a postcard scribbled with, "I eat out."

Robert Heinecken's Serious Martini

From The Photographer's Cookbook


English gin

California lemon

1. Take one bottle of either Tanqueray or Bombay gin. Beefeater should not be a substitute.

2. Take a long-stem crystal glass, preferably with straight V-shaped sides, minimum capacity 3 ounces.

3. Place both in the freezer, 5 to 6 hours prior to intending imbibing.

4. For each serving, pour the desired amount (minimum 3 ounces) directly from the bottle into the frozen glass. Use no ice, and avoid touching the bowl of the glass.

5. Add the juice of 1/8 California lemon. Remove any seeds and submerge the lemon slice rind in the drink.

6. Serve and repeat for maximum effect.

Note a. An excellent companion to this drink is iced shrimp dipped to taste in cocktail sauce with lemon juice added.

Note b. This drink is not recommended before 11 a.m.

Click through the slideshow below for some of our favorite images within the book.

The Photographer's Cookbook

Courtesy of Aperture/George Eastman Museum, 2016

Ansel Adams poached his eggs in strong dark beer (or malt liquor, as he found ordinary beer too weak) for a serious breakfast of champions.

© 2016 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

This image of ham and eggs by Ralph Steiner was shot for The Delineator magazine in 1929, though we think it still looks pretty current.

© Estate of Ralph Steiner, Image Courtesy of George Eastman Museum

With an admonition that "we are all TOO addicted to salt," Imogen Cunningham writes of making a half-homemade, half-Manischewitz brand borscht to accompany this shot of her kitchen.

© Imogen Cunningham Trust

You might start to understand the meaning of Robert Heinecken's image after knocking back a few of the artist's martinis, which are essentially just gin and lemon.

© The Robert Heinecken Trust, Chicago, Courtesy Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles

Barbara Morgan's photo of grain stalks reaching out to every edge of the frame is a perfect accompaniment to her Global Bread Cake, which calls for 12 cups of various starches. 

© Barbara Morgan Archives

According to Neal Slavin, "the frankfurter need not be left naked!" We couldn't agree more.

© Neal Slavin