By Susan Bright
304 pages, hardcover, $60.00
Published by Aperture
Despite their ubiquity and often utilitarian function, photographs of food are never merely factual. Every picture of food, from a fast-food hamburger to a technicolor layer cake, is imbued with a host of different political, personal, social and cultural meanings we often take for granted. While social media has foregrounded the popularity of food photography, the varied ways in which food can and has appeared as a photographic subject is less often considered. Drawing on a rich variety of examples from fine art to commercial and vernacular photography, Susan Bright’s Feast for the Eyes: The Story of Food in Photography traces the evolution of food in photography from the 1840s to the present. As Bright demonstrates, whether it’s being used to signify class or functioning as a cheeky sexual metaphor, food is a surprisingly mutable subject.
While examples by well-known photographers fill the book, it is the commercial and vernacular images that are the most surprising and revealing. Unexpected inclusions, like the Soviet Union’s Pishchyevaya Industriya (Food Industry) and Weight Watchers recipe cards, are reminders that innovative photography can be found in unexpected places. Bright’s eclectic and international selection underscores the reality that food has always been a proxy for shifting tastes, desires and values. Given the pervasiveness of food photography (as well as the obvious importance of food), it is hard to believe this is the first comprehensive survey of the subject. A fascinating sociological study and sumptuous visual history, Feast for the Eyes is a welcome corrective to this long-standing omission in the medium’s history. —Adam Bell