A Brief History of Food Photography

A Brief History of Food Photography — Clorova | Bali & Jakarta Photography, Video, 360 Media Production

From basic sustenance to savory repasts, food excites human senses.

Food's complexity of form and value - and with the fact that it's often have made it the most-photographed subject throughout the history of photography. Enthusiasm in both food photography and the food itself as a subject has risen in the past few years, but food photography isn't a new thing, it is however started to appear in the early of 19th century.

There are many key aspects of interest painters used that were later taken up by contemporary food photographers. 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 that are mirrored in commercial food photography today.

Fig 01
Plate XIV from The Pencil of Nature, A Fruit Piece, William Henry Fox Talbot © Science Museum Group collection. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Rome and cities of the Netherlands and Northern France were the leading regions of still life painting, focusing on tables loaded with a variety of fresh food. Spanish still life focused on just a few kinds of food in a small area.

Similarly, artists in Florence kept this simplistic depiction in still life paintings, but incorporated influence from scientific diagrams. Allegory and meaning were important in still life paintings of this time, but given the shift away from religion as a dominant social concern, such religious connotations tend not to occur in contemporary food photography.

Aspects of realism, attention to composition and arrangement and a concern with allegorical meanings carried over in the 18thcentury, which saw more elaborate still life paintings. The food items were more carefully chosen for visual interest, like unusual shape or texture and grand banquets were depicted in their entirety. Jean-Simeon Chardin, a significant still life painter, produced many realist paintings between 1720-1770, depicting everyday objects with illusionist elements yet blended these into a realistic atmosphere.

Fig 02
Pl. XIV. Poulardes à la godard. Le Livre De Cuisine. Eugene Ronjat, Jules Gouffe.

Mostly focussing on realism, composition and the effects of light, essential to producing any food photography.

Mostly focussing on realism, composition and the effects of light, essential to producing any food photography. 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.