Photographs That Changed the Way We Eat

"Wheat Harvest Ballet," 2006
Photo: Jim Richardson

Not long after the invention of photography in the early 19th century, photographers began training their lenses on food. As part of a yearlong celebration of F&W's 40th anniversary, we gathered milestone moments in food photography from the last 40 years. Chefs, historians, and photographers all gave their input for this collection. Some of these photos capture the zeitgeist of their culinary era; others sparked dining trends — and some even changed the course of history.

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"Milk Drop Coronet," 1957, Harold Edgerton

"Milk Drop Coronet," 1957
copyright 2010 MIT.Courtesy of MIT Museum.

Edgerton, an electrical engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, experimented with shutter motors and strobe lights to capture this millisecond in a milk drop's splatter—a moment frozen in time. His milk photos led to the development of the electronic flash, forever changing photography.

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Julia Child on the Set of The French Chef, 1963, Paul Child

Julia Child on the set of The French Chef, 1963
The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

On her first cooking show after publishing her landmark book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child made cooking fun and fearless. Child's husband took this photo at a promo shoot, which poked fun at the amount of work it took to produce the show. The tight behind-the-scenes work paved the way for how cooking shows are made today.

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Latte Art At Third Rail, 2010, Ashley Gilbertson

Latte Art at Third Rail, 2010
Ashley Gilbertson / VII / Redux

Credit for the way we drink coffee in America today goes to the baristas and shift managers and small-shop owners who decided that OK wasn't good enough, that every cappuccino could—and should—be tasty and memorable, an expression of craft and technique. This change didn't come from the large-scale chains attuned to the bottom line; it came from the nerds who couldn't help themselves, who took a job working behind a counter and realized that coffee could be art. — Oliver Strand

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Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-Ins, 1960, Jack Moebes

Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-Ins, 1960

When Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Billy Smith, and Clarence Henderson took their seats at the whites-only counter at Woolworth, the servers ignored their coffee and food orders. They stayed put until closing and returned the next day. Photos of their sit-in ignited a movement: A few days later, 300 people showed up to peacefully protest the segregated establishment. Their collective efforts ultimately led to desegregation–first of the Woolworth lunch counter, on July 25, 1960, and later of the country at large.

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"Stilleben," 1910 , Wladimir Schohin

"Stilleben," 1910
Wladimir Schohin, Stilleben, 1910 / Courtesy of Amatörfotografklubben I Helsingfors rf, Finland

In a single frame, photographer Wladimir Schohin advanced photography by successfully rendering color. He relied on autochrome, a notoriously difficult process that uses a food product, potato starch, to produce pigment. "[It] marked a distinct change from photographic still lives of the 19th century and rejected the allegorical traditions of painting," writes curator Susan Bright for

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Dinner As Diplomacy, 1972 , Ollie Atkins

Dinner as Diplomacy, 1972
Ollie Atkins/Contributor/Getty Images

When President Richard Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai sat down together in Shanghai—the first rapprochement in 25 years—it was at a 600-person banquet. Atkins was one of six American photographers allowed to cover the meal, which included dumplings, fried rice, and shark's fin soup. Nixon's favorite was Peking duck, and Americans took note: After the dinner, Chinese restaurants in the U.S. were mobbed by diners wanting a taste. The banquet sealed Nixon's reputation as a statesperson in an election year and made inroads for the growth of Chinese cuisine in America.

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Small Farm Chicken at Buvette, 2014, Gentl and Hyers

Small Farm Chicken at Buvette, 2014
Gentl & Hyers

In this image, which harks back to Carey's work, warm, dappled light gives the form of a slaughtered hen a sense of energy and grace. It's a prime example of a knack for framing beauty that has made Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers such sought-after photographers—you can see their work on magazine covers across the nation.

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Outstanding in the Field, 2017

Outstanding in the Field, 2017
Visit California

If there's a moment that summarizes the farm-to-table movement, it's this: a long table, laden with food harvested from neighboring fields, presided over by a local chef, to raise money for the community—in this case, for Northern California wine country fire relief. The moment—and the photo—was organized by Outstanding in the Field, which has been organizing open-air meals since 1999.

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Marco Pierre White, circa 1990 , Bob Carlos Clarke

Marco Pierre White, circa 1990
Marco Pierre White, 1990 © The Estate of Bob Carlos Clarke

For about a year, Clarke, a fashion photographer, was a fly on the wall at Harveys, Marco Pierre White's first restaurant after training under Pierre Koffmann and Nico Ladenis. Their collaboration led to White Heat, part autobiography, part cookbook. The dynamic photos of White and his crew helped attract a new generation to the culinary field but also helped popularize the image of the "bad boy" chef, glorifying a kitchen culture of chauvinism and substance use that persists today.

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Danny Meyer, 1985

Danny Meyer, 1985
Union Square Hospitality Group

Before Eleven Madison Park, Shake Shack, or Gramercy Tavern, there was Union Square Cafe. Here, first-time restaurateur Meyer, 27, stands in front of the space that would launch the influential Union Square Hospitality Group, whose award-winning restaurants continue to pave the way for the industry, from growing chefs like Tom Colicchio to championing the no-tipping movement.

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Food Magazine Covers

Gourmet, Cherry Bombe, and Lucky Peach
From Left to Right: Gourmet © Conde Nast, Photographer John Kernick; Jennifer Livingston; Courtesy of Momofuko

Some magazine covers can feel formulaic — grabby cover lines, a close-up of a familiar dish. But these three magazines broke the mold: For 68 years, Gourmet magazine showcased gorgeous photography with its incredibly minimal yet modern covers. Cherry Bombe brought a flash of fashion, putting emerging women leaders — like model turned cookbook author Chrissy Teigen — on its covers and kick-starting a conversation about women in food that's especially relevant today. And just a day before shipping the first issue of Lucky Peach, art director Walter Green handwrote cover lines over a photo of raw chickens, rejecting the restrained austerity of covers and inviting more fun and experimentation.

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"Frozen Foods," 1977 , Irving Penn

"Fronzen Foods," 1977
Photograph by Irving Penn, Frozen Foods, New York, 1977 © The Irving Penn Foundation

One hundred and sixty five—that's the number of covers Irving Penn shot for Vogue during his 66-year run at the fashion magazine. However, for food photographers and stylists today, works like this sculpture of frozen food influenced every generation that followed. "I enjoy the simplified aesthetic of his work," says photographer Jen Causey. "I hope that translates to my work." Food stylist Victoria Granof (see "On Food Photography,") worked alongside Penn for a decade at Vogue, and this sense of just-enough is his signature. "From him, I learned how to pare an image down to its essence, when enough is enough, and how to compose an image that directs the viewer's eye to what you want them to see," says Granof.

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Waters & Chez Panisse Staff, 1982, Susan Wood

Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, 1982
Susan Wood/Getty Images

When Alice Waters opened her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse in 1971, the first dinner menu consisted of pâté en croute, canard aux olives, plum tart, and café, priced at $3.95. The dishes seemed simple, but the ingredients were revolutionary. Take the canard aux olives: while other restaurants at the time served duck dishes using frozen poultry, Waters bought fresh ducks from Chinatown earlier that morning. Waters' insistence on the best, freshest ingredients established her as a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement. Chez Panisse's success—captured here by photographer Susan Wood as the staff raised a glass of champagne to ring in New Year's Day, 1982—paved the way for the farm-to-table movement, and the ascent of organic food in America.

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"Still Life With Waterfowl," 1873 , Charles Philippe Auguste Carey

"Still Life with Waterfowl," 1873
Charles Philippe Auguste Carey, Still Life with Waterfowl, ca. 1873 / Courtesy of Bibliothèque Nationale de France

One of the earliest photographers, Carey helped establish the artistic possibilities of the new medium. "The thing that makes Carey's work so amazing is that food, separated by centuries, is the same in its most raw form," says photographer Andrea Gentl. "This should be a reminder that, in spite of our smartphones and drones, we are living, breathing people, like our ancestors, and that should help to remind us that all people of the earth share these primal, basic needs."

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Apple Pyequick, 1947 , Victor Keppler

Apple Pyequick, 1947
Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum. Photo by Victor Keppler

An early adopter of color photography, Victor Keppler used the technology to produce this image, used by General Mills to promote Apple Pyequick pie mix. Though convincingly realistic, it uses only four colors.

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The Cereal Gun, General Mills, 1958

The Cereal Gun, General Mills, 1958
Courtesy of the General Mills Archives

"The technology that defined what we eat for breakfast was the explosive puffing gun, which made possible the airy, crispy, toasty puffs that now dominate the cereal aisle. In this photo, Cheerios explode out of a General Mills breakfast cereal puffing gun. I love everything about this photo: the safety goggles, the sense of excitement, and the explosion of breakfast cereal." —Peter J. Kim, Executive Director, Museum of Food and Drink

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Menestra En Texturas, 1994 , Francesc Guillamet

Menestra en Texturas, 1994
elBulliArchivo / Francesc Guillamet

In this total reimagining of a classic vegetable stew—featuring almond sorbet; a variety of vegetable mousses, purees, and granitas; basil water; and beet foam—elBulli chef Ferran Adrià applied new techniques and played with texture, appearance, and (most important) a diner's expectations. With it, a new era of conceptual food began, shifting from a focus on Mediterranean flavors to what was later dubbed "techno-emotional cuisine," igniting a culinary revolution around the world. — Sofia Perez

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The Judgment of Paris, 1976, Bella Spurrier

The Judgment of Paris, 1976
Bella Spurrier

No one took Englishman Steven Spurrier seriously when he hosted a blind taste test at his Paris wine shop. Only one journalist showed up to the event, and the judges, all French oenophiles, expected the French wines to win. To everyone's shock, the California wines—a 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag's Leap—came in first. In a moment, California wines were catapulted to the world stage.

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"Lemonade and Fruit Salad," circa 1943 , Nickolas Muray

"Lemonade and Fruit Salad," circa 1943
Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum. Photo by Nickolas Muray, © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

From 1935 through the '50s, Hungarian-born Muray took color photographs for the popular American women's magazine McCall's. Using the three-color carbro process, Muray photographed bright, colorful spreads that demonstrated the importance of presentation.

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Le Pavillon, 1962, Ralph Morse

Le Pavillon, 1962
Ralph Morse/Contributor/Getty Images

When Henri Soulé came to the U.S. to run a restaurant at the French pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair, he ignited a love of French cuisine that persists to this day. After the fair ended, he opened Le Pavillon in New York, which launched the U.S. careers of greats like Pépin and Roger Fessaguet and set a new fine-dining standard.

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Lady Gaga Wearing Steak, 2010 , Frederick M. Brown

Lady Gaga wearing steak, 2010
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Food in fashion made a big statement in Lady Gaga's "meat dress," worn to the MTV Video Music Awards. Styled by Nicola Formichetti, the outfit was criticized by animal rights activists. Lady Gaga wore the dress to protest the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

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Chef Leah Chase, 2013 , Robbie Caponetto

Chef Leah Chase, 2013
Robbie Caponetto

Dooky Chase's opened in 1941, and it quickly became a meeting place for all of New Orleans. Five years later, entrepreneur Leah Lange — who held jobs waiting tables, managing boxers, and more — married into the Chase family, stepped into the kitchen, and grew the sandwich shop into a restaurant that put Creole home cooking on the map. Leah Chase was still running the kitchen at age 95.

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Argentinian Matambre, 1964 , John Dominis

Argentinian Matambre, 1964, John Dominis
John Dominis

For Life's "Great Dinners" series, the magazine featured festive meals, like matambre, a roll of flank steak stuffed with vegetables and chiles from Argentina. Like Modernist Cuisine would decades later, to get up close, Dominis sawed the vessel in half. But the extra flourish of smoke—cigarette smoke, to be exact—is all his own.

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Sliced Weber, 2011 , Ryan Matthew Smith

Sliced Weber, 2011
Courtesy of The Cooking Lab, LLC.

These mind-blowing images for Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine were made by splicing over 30 takes into one image. Smith's team used a band saw to slice grills, woks, and more in half to capture the dynamism of the cooking process.

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"Trail's End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah," 1973, Stephen Shore

"Trail's End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah," 1973
Stephen Shore. Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York.

In today's Instagram age, the act of photographing a meal is common. But back then, it wasn't so. Photographer Stephen Shore told The Guardian, "Food was an aspect of daily life I hadn't seen photographed much." Drawn to the melting butter, cored cantaloupe, and Formica table, he said, "This was what America looked like then."

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Coffee And Cigarettes, 2003

Coffee and Cigarettes
Courtesy of MGM

The 2003 film Coffee and Cigarettes, directed by Jim Jarmusch, was composed of eleven vignettes, each focusing on everyday interactions that occur while people drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. While the actors in each vignette change — ranging from Bill Murray to Iggy Pop — the visual style remains consistent. The film is shot entirely in black and white and every segment includes a long, lingering shot of coffee and cigarettes, sometimes haphazardly sprawled across a diner table, other times set neatly atop a silver platter. Though not focused on food per se, those striking birds-eye views of the table influenced a rising generation of food photographers, who adopted a similar perspective in their own work.

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#pizza, 2015 , Rick Poon

#Pizza, 2015
Rick Poon

With almost 30 million public posts, # pizza is among the most popular food hashtags on Instagram. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Taking pictures of food has become so ubiquitous that it's rare to eat a meal without seeing a flash go off. Now, diners go out of their way for a doughnut they saw on their feed, and chefs create "Instagrammable" menu items, proving social media has an undeniable impact on the way we eat.

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Pop Culture

Sex and the City, Friends, and Sideways
Clockwise from Left: HBO / Photofest; Warner Bros. Television / courtesy Everett Collection; Fox Searchlight / Courtesy Everette Collection

More than just cameo appearances, food and drink have become essential characters on screen. In the 1990s, "hangout" sitcoms like Friends cast food establishments as communal gathering centers rather than solely spots for power lunches and dates. The 2004 film Sideways, which chronicles two friends on a weeklong road trip through California's wine country, did more than earn an Oscar—it transformed the wine industry. Winemakers credit the movie with the rise of Pinot Noir. (Sales increased by 16 percent from 2005 through 2008.) And throughout the 2000s, Carrie Bradshaw and her girl gang in Sex and the City were often seen sipping these pink cocktails in martini glasses: Cosmopolitans, made with citrus-flavored vodka, Cointreau, cranberry juice, and lime. It came to represent a New York City lifestyle accessible to women everywhere—it was much more feasible to order a Cosmo at the local bar than to drop $500 on a pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps.

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Photographers Get Jiggly With It

From Left to Right: Southern Living's Low-Cost Cookbook 1972, Gaslight Advertising Archives, Noah Fecks; Food Stylist: Victoria Granof; Prop Stylists: Ben Knox and Christopher Spaulding

The process of producing gelatin by extracting collagen from animal bones was time-consuming and expensive, yet the invention of instant gelatin in the early 1900s made congealed dishes more accessible. Fast, easy, and cost-effective, instant gelatin enabled home cooks to mold entire meals and remake leftovers into a brand-new dish. Jellied salads became particularly popular in the period after World War II with the help of Jell-O's bright, snappy marketing, as the photographic legacy of the era attests: Americans were infatuated with Jell-O. It was economical to make, tasty to eat, and impressive to photograph.

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"A Half-Mile of Pork," circa 1894, B.L. Singley

"A Half-Mile of Pork" circa 1894
Courtesy of the New York Public Library

In this photo of a slaughterhouse, made to be viewed in an early 3-D photo viewer, "the lines between art and documentary are blurred," writes curator Susan Bright in Feast for the Eyes. A decade after this photo, similar coverage of slaughterhouses prompted Americans to question the cleanliness of their meat, leading to the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 and the creation of the FDA.

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Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book , 1954

Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book, 1954
pages from Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, 1954, credit: "Feast for the Eyes"

Betty Crocker, a made-up character created by the flour-milling business Washburn Crosby Company, epitomized the American homemaker. In 1950, the first edition of Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book was published with colorful, bountiful images. The pictures (used here with permission from Feast for the Eyes), which promised readers they could create big, beautiful feasts, embody the opulent postwar mind-set.

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La Technique, 1976 , Léon Perrer

La Technique, 1976
Léon Perer, pages from La Technique, 1976 / "Feast for the Eyes"

In 1976, chef Jacques Pépin published La Technique, which cataloged almost 200 of the most important culinary techniques. The groundbreaking set of photos by Perer, above (republished with permission from Feast for the Eyes) helped Americans learn how to cook through close-ups of Pépin's hands executing every step of each process, from hollowing out artichokes to trimming shell steak.

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Recipe Cards

Recipe Cards
Courtesy of Aperture / "Feast for the Eyes"

Though recipes were long shared orally, home cooks began writing down recipes as literacy rates increased. Then, as Americans became more interested in nutrition in the early 20th century, companies like Weight Watchers began offering recipe cards (like those shown here, excerpted from the history of food photography, Feast for the Eyes) with precise amounts and detailed directions. Subscribers received stacks of cards to trade with friends—and started writing down their own recipes to pass on.

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"Wheat Harvest Ballet," 2006 , Jim Richardson

"Wheat Harvest Ballet," 2006
Jim Richardson

Richardson, a National Geographic photographer, flew a tiny plane over Goodland, Kansas, to capture the magnitude and hidden beauty of an industrial-scale wheat harvest.

Updated by Kim Gougenheim
Elyse Inamine

Elyse Inamine is a writer and editor based in New York City. Previously, she was the restaurants editor at Bon Appétit and has covered chefs and the restaurant industry on staff at Food & Wine and Tasting Table.

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