Food and Art

As a one-time photography student, we needed to do one essay per year of the course. Whilst the hard work of essay-writing is not something that brought me joy, the opportunity to delve into a particular subject and create your own argument whilst justifying your opinion with evidence was enjoyable. At the end of my second year, my work for the show consisted of a large print (around 50 inches square, I think) of people in the process of eating. You can see the image here.

I’d thought about the link between food and photography, and aside from actual food photography, there wasn’t a great deal out there. The focus was on making the experience or the product look tasteful, attractive and enticing. Regardless of the type of food pictured, whether it was chicken and chips or fine dining, the process which happened next – eating – was much the same. Cutlery or fingers, it involves putting food into the mouth, chewing and swallowing.

Who wants to be photographed whilst eating? There are numerous celebrities papped whilst eating in a variety of embarrassing poses. Is it the faces we inadvertently make whilst eating that are unattractive? With food accessible in all sorts of public places, do we really think that the act of eating is something personal and private? Maybe we don’t want to be judged on our eating habits or food choices.

I came across a video discussion on the Tate Britain website, on the subject of art and food. Food started being depicted in art many years ago – for example, the Last Supper shows a whole table full of food, but no-one is eating it. It becomes apparent that this was the norm in art. To be pictured eating was not respectable, and denoted you to possibly be of a lower class. The symbol of the apple in art was also discussed – there is the connection with Adam and Eve and temptation, therefore giving the apple connotations of sexuality and the fall of man.

Contemporary photographer Ralf Schmerberg’s “Dirty Dishes” was a series of work I used in my research. Schmerberg photographed the aftermath of dinners, or scenes in kitchens that we don’t get to (or want to) see. Whether it’s the fag butts on the table, or the grease stains and bones on the bedsheets, these pictures betray the memory of the food that came before. I like it. I want to see the remains that we leave behind; sometimes it’s the results of our excesses, ordering far too much in an Indian restaurant, or the bones that are sucked dry of meat. The sinks full of fat, and the mess made after a party – these are all part of the world of food that we are so obsessed with, but not a part that we wish to remember. This goes for the way we are sheltered in how our food is produced, or how we refuse to acknowledge how wasteful we can be – it all falls under the same umbrella. We are animals, we eat, we make mess. Pictures of these sort should have a place in the art world, even if we the consumers are not prepared to accept them as part of the process of what and how we eat.

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One thought on “Food and Art

  1. Very interesting piece Laura, I remember being served a meal here in Spain by a couple we were staying with whilst deciding where to build our house, It was a lovely meal but later in the evening I had to walk through the kitchen to the loo and OMG what a mess! There wasn’t a surface with an inch of space left free and a sink full of pots and pans, my idea of a nightmare but I am a bit of a clean and tidy freak. Also have you seen the famous photo of me taken one Christmas with the huge fork full of food being shovelled into my mouth? Awful photo, definitely lower class!

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