Susan Bright; Billy Bragg
AS FOOD MARKETERS have long known, we eat with our eyes. But this book by art historian Susan Bright shows there’s more to food photography than eye candy or food porn. The compendium of images from the 1840s to the present day is part social history, taking in humor, aspiration, sex and taste, while also telling the story of photography.
“Eating is one of the most base, visceral and profane acts,” Bright observes in Feast for the Eyes. In this spirit, we see Weegee’s 1940 image of a young man poised to cram a waterfall of spaghetti into his open mouth; Martin Parr’s famished swimmers at a fast-food stand in the 1980s; and shots from Peter Menzel’s 2005 photojournalism project, Hungry Planet, in which families in different countries stand next to their week’s groceries.
But there’s another, equally compelling story here: the evolution of food styling. The Technicolor platters of 1970s Weight Watchers recipe cards—for dishes like a “crown roast of frankfurters”—sit in hilarious contrast to the 21st-century obsession with authenticity and simplicity—a humble pork chop, for example, caramelizing in a pan of butter froth ( Bon Appétit magazine, 2013). You might not want to eat a crown of hot dogs, but the photo makes a good case for their glorification in art.
Feast for the Eyes: The Story of Food in Photography By Susan Bright Aperture, out now $60 HUNGRY YEARS: Clockwise from top left: Mccall’s magazine shoot, circa 1943; “SelfPortrait With Eighty Cakes,” by Tim Walker, 2008; “Peas on a Plate,” by Sandy Skoglund, 1978; General Mills campaign, 1947.