'Feast for the Eyes' is a delightful history of food in photography

What we eat, and how we consume it, is directly linked to photography’s evolution. 

Feast for the Eyes: The Story of Food in Photography By Susan Bright Aperture 304 pp.

If you are interested in – or share – the compulsion to post photos of food on Instagram, you’ll love a new offering from Aperture Books. Feast for the Eyes: The Story of Food in Photography is a fascinating exploration of the genre. British photography curator Susan Bright deftly navigates her complex subject.

This thoughtful tome is organized chronologically by decade, concisely encapsulating the salient points of each photo’s genesis. What we eat, and how we consume it, is directly linked to photography’s evolution.  

Since the camera’s invention, images of food and consumption have remained touchstones for identity and power. “The Modern Farmer, 1909,” by William H. Martin, emphasized the agricultural dominance of the United States, according to Bright. The whimsical photomontage of a rural family hauling a harvest of giant peaches appeared as a “tall tale” image at the height of postcards’ popularity.

Technology furthered photographic possibilities on the subject. In 1957, Harold Edgerton’s newly invented strobe light captured the coronet of a milk drop falling into a red pan with stunning precision and beauty.

Along with the proliferation of vivid color photography in the 1960s came lush food photographs marketed to the busy homemaker. Those same products became props for later artists commenting on artifice and reality, as in Sandy Skoglund’s “Peas on a Plate, 1978.”

Food is fundamental to our existence and rich as a visual metaphor for desire, hope, abundance, and scarcity, says Bright. In “Feast for the Eyes,” photography and food are a perfect pairing.

Joanne Ciccarello is a former Monitor photo editor.

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