Take a casual stroll through any museum and you will no doubt agree that food has played an integral role in art. From the early depictions of the hunt on cave walls to the Flemish still life fruit bowl paintings of the late Renaissance, artists have used food as a prop, to convey a mood, or even make powerful statements. So, too, has it been a subject for photography since the art form’s inception in the 19th century. For the first time ever, images of, about, and reimagining what we eat have been compiled into one comprehensive, mouthwatering tome.
“Feast for the Eyes: The Story of Food in Photography,” written by Susan Bright and published by Aperture, is just what the title suggests. With mustard-yellow binding and a vintage typeface, the coffee table book looks like something you’d snatch up at an antiquarian shop, but its scope includes everything from the 1840s to the Instagram Age. We spoke with editor Denise Wolff who has a theory as to why food photos are so engaging. “It’s almost like looking at a nude,” Wolff says. “I think what makes these pictures so powerful is how they affect your sense. I was hungry the whole time I was working on it. It impacts your body’s senses and your intellect at the same time. It creates desire.”
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Sources for the photographs include fine art collections, advertising and cookbooks (some of which were even culled from Food & Wine’s archives). Wolff says it was important to show the breadth of food image uses as well. “We represented commercial and artwork together, because they’re both feeding off of each other in many ways and both off of the still life tradition,” Wolff explains. “Color photography itself was influenced by commercial food photography because they wanted the pictures on the packaging to look appetizing and attractive.”