Friday, August 10, 2012

Does Photography Change the Foods We Crave?

Jacket cover from Lee Bailey's Country Desserts, (cover photograph by Joshua Greene), 1988

While working as the creative consultant to the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, writer and curator Marvin Heiferman considered how photography changes everything.  In an effort to reconsider the ways in which photography impacts our lives, Heiferman posed questions to professionals working outside of the usual fields involved in dialogue about photography.  The results began with an online project entitled,  Click! Photography Changes Everything and concludes with a book, Photography Changes Everything, published by Aperture and the Smithsonian InstitutionPhotography Changes Everything includes over eighty commentaries on photography from professionals using images for purposes other than art, ranging from a pundit on shopping behavior and global consumer trends to an expert on terrorism.  Along with Hugh Heffner, Candice Bergen, John Baldessari and John Waters, those contributing texts include:  garden photographer Irene Jeruss, cookbook publishing professional Lauren Shakely and author of mycology and mushroom hunting field guides Nancy Smith Weber.

The diverse essays collected by Heiferman and introduced by Merry A. Foresta, the senior curator of photography for the Smithsonian’s International Art Museums Division, fall into one of six subcategories: Photography Changes What We Want, Photography Changes What We See, Photography Changes Who We Are, Photography Changes What We Do, Photography Changes Where We Go, Photography Changes What We Remember.  The collection of essays “Photography Changes What We Do” includes an account by Lauren Shakely entitled,  “Photography Changes the Foods We Crave.” Shakely provides a visual history of the cookbook noting, “The way photographs looked, and how they were used in cookbooks, changed radically in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the Japanese transformed color printing…In 1982, Martha Stewart insisted not only on Japanese printing, but also photographs of every dish for her first book, Entertaining.”  Shakely also recalls a cookbook cover image produced in 1988 for Lee Bailey’s Country Dessert.  Shakely describes this cover photograph as an in house joke at Clarkson Potter, where she was publisher, due to the somewhat conspicuous fly embedded within the frosting which could now easily be retouched with the use of Photoshop.  Shakely goes on to note a shift in food images from record keeping to the sensualization of food.  “You cannot look at the photograph without wanting to eat the cake, but even more, without wanting the day and all that it implies.  You want not only the time it takes too eat the cake on a lazy summer afternoon, but the time it took to bake it, set the table, and arrange the flowers.”

While one may desire the time to bake cake, one may equally desire the time involved in foraging mushrooms.  In her essay, “Photography Changes How and Where Mushrooms are Collected” Nancy Smith Weber reminds the reader, when consumed; some mushrooms varietals may cause indigestion, illness or even death.   The photographically illustrated field guide played a vital role in safe collection and consumption of mushrooms.  Smith Weber explains, “By the late 1800’s, mushroom photography had become a hobby for individuals and a tool for scientists, educators and artists.”  George Francis Atkinson photographed and described as many mushrooms of North America as he could publishing Studies of American Fungi Mushrooms Edible, Poisonous, ETC., in 1900. The essay includes images of George F. Atkinson at work photographing specimens, in addition to, a photograph produced by Atkinson in 1905 of the Arthurus borealis mushroom.  Smith Weber, a senior coauthor of over fifty publications on mycology notes, “An admirable feature of the community of mushroom enthusiasts is that its members come from diverse backgrounds and occupations and mingle with one another on an equal basis.  Everyone knows something about the fungi in their home territory, but no one knows everything.  Mycology is an equalizer and a humbler of the proud.  Photography – at the intersection of art, food, and science plays a central role in bringing people together in community to enjoy friends, fellowship, fun and fungi.”
Anthurus borealis, George F. Atkinson, 1905

Portrait of George F. Atkinson, Photographer unknown

Photography Changes Everything edited by Marvin Heiferman with a foreword by Merry A. Foresta is available through Aperture or the Smithsonian Institution for $39.95US.  ISBN: 978-1-59711-199-7

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