Entertaining

How Food Photography Has Changed over the Years

Susan Bright's new book dives into food pre-Instagram
New 'Feast for the Eyes' Food Photography Book
Photo: © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives, Courtesy George Eastman Museum, gift of Mrs. Nickolas Muray

Food has always been a part of history, but the way it has been captured in cookbooks and the media has changed wildly over the years. Different styles, techniques and aesthetics have emerged, changing how the art has played a role in our society.

In the new food photography book, Feast for the Eyes (available June 15), writer and photography curator Susan Bright explores this evolution dating back to the 19th century. She covers how food was first photographed as a subject, rather than something in the background, by photographers like William Henry Fox Talbot in his work A Fruit Piece (1845).

Throughout the book, Bright references how food has been a part of important topics, like religion and politics. For example, during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, young black Americans were photographed sitting at a whites-only diner counter across from white waitresses who refused to serve them. And while the layer cake in between them is not the main subject of the photo, it "becomes a very physical barrier between the young men and the women—between black and white," she writes in the book.

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Bright also discusses how food, especially "cookbooklets" and cookbooks, have been scribed and photographed in a certain way to sell a gender-focused lifestyle. "Many cookbooks are still marketed mainly at women, though not as blatantly as they were,” she says in an interview with British Journal of Photography. “Look at Jamie's 15-Minute Meals. Before you get to the recipes, there is a spread of photographs of [Oliver's] family." Bright says the photos signify how his wife has everything under control at home, serving her family delicious, healthy meals, even though she's busy, all while under the man's supervision.

"When you look at the very best photographs, you want not only the food, but also the tableware and cutlery," Bright writes. This translates to today's age, when people use platforms like Instagram to showcase food and restaurants to sell an image.

Check out the slideshow for some of our favorite photos from the book, then get the book here.

  • William Louis Henry Skeen, Still Life of Exotic Fruits and Lizard from Ceylon, Colombo, Sri Lanka, ca. 1880; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  • William H. Martin, The Modern Farmer, 1909; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: Courtesy George Eastman Museum, gift of 3m Foundation, ex-collection of Louis Walton Sipley

  • Wladimir Schohin, Stilleben, 1910; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: Courtesy Amatörfotografklubben i Helsingfors rf, Finland

  • Russell Lee, Serving Pinto Beans at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair barbeque, 1940; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: Courtesy The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

  • Victor Keppler, [General Mills advertising campaign—Apple Pyequick], 1947; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: © Victor Keppler, Courtesy George Eastman Museum, gift of Victor Keppler

  • Nickolas Muray, Lemonade and Fruit Salad, McCall’s magazine, ca. 1943; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives, Courtesy George Eastman Museum, gift of Mrs. Nickolas Muray

  • Nickolas Muray, Food Spread, Daffodils, McCall’s magazine, ca. 1946; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives, Courtesy George Eastman Museum, gift of Mrs. Nickolas Muray

  • Harold Edgerton, Milk Drop Coronet, 1957; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: © 2010 MIT, Courtesy MIT Museum

  • Stephen Shore, Trails End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah, August 10, 1973; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: © Stephen Shore, Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York

  • Sandy Skoglund, Peas On A Plate, 1978; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: © 1978 Sandy Skoglund

  • Nobuyoshi Araki, Colourscapes, 1991; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: © Nobuyoshi Araki, Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo

  • Jo Ann Callis, Black Table Cloth, 1979; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: © Jo Ann Callis, Courtesy Rose Gallery Santa Monica

  • Martin Parr, Untitled (Hot Dog Stand), 1983–85; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

  • Martin Parr, Pink Pig Cakes, 2002; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

  • Rinko Kawauchi, Untitled, 2001, from the series Utatane; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: © Rinko Kawauchi

  • Tim Walker, Self-Portrait with Eighty Cakes, 2008; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: © Tim Walker

  • Laura Letinsky, Untitled #49, 2002, from the series Hardly More Than Ever; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: Courtesy the artist and Yancey Richard Gallery, NYC

  • Lorenzo Vitturi, Red #1, 2013, from the series Dalston Anatomy; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: Courtesy the artist

  • Grant Cornett, Jello Disco Floor, 2016, for Gather Journal, food styling by Janine Iversen; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: Courtesy the artist

  • Daniel Gordon, Pineapple and Shadow, 2011; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

    Photo: Courtesy the artist and James Fuentes Gallery, New York

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