The rather over-named and definitely over-shirted Paul Winch-Furness has done a piece for the BBC website on photographing your food. You can view all five half minute episodes here. Unfortunately, it’s an exercise in dumbed down that makes you want to shout “like, durrrr!” at quite a few sentences. (I don’t blame him, I blame a hand-holding poor-things meedja culture that is terrified of actual expertise. There seems to be a received wisdom that knowing a great deal about a subject and displaying that knowledge turns people off rather than drawing them in. Not here.) So we get a useful tip about tapping an iPhone to get it to take a light reading mixed in with ‘ambience is important’. He recommends using your phone rather than a chunky great DSLR – presuming, of course, that you have a smartphone with a decent camera. Thanks, shirty!
I wrote a piece about taking photos in restaurants last year. A large problem seems to be the tricky point of etiquette about the correct behaviour. It’s apparently acceptable in your souped-up gourmet junk food joint (which the Guardian gave a long-overdue kicking recently) to Facebook your brioche bun with kimchi topping, but in anything with Michelin aspirations and up, there seems to be more of a backlash developing. As three-star Moe Issa explains in the New York Times:
“It’s a disaster in terms of momentum, settling into the meal, the great conversation that develops,” he said. “It’s hard to build a memorable evening when flashes are flying every six minutes.” Mr Issa is happy to supply diners with professional photos the next day, though Mr. Hall said “people want to e-mail their photos to their friends right then and there; instant gratification.”
You got it, Moe – unfortunately, an awful lot of ‘foodie culture’, as developed in the decadent West over the past few years is about showing off. The combination of disposable income, digital photography, and internet everywhere has resulted in a perfect storm of gluttonous public narcissism. “Look at me, fuckos, I’m at Dabbous!” Although Ollie Dabbous, when asked by Square Meal, seemed to have a balanced view:
To be honest I read the reviews in the press but I don’t have time to read bloggers’ stuff. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and as long as they’re happy I don’t mind. A lot goes into food photography so it does the dishes a slight disservice when bloggers take photos in the restaurant – the lighting is never right. But if you have paid for the meal you can do what you want as far as I’m concerned. You can let it go cold, you can go for a cigarette – and you can take photos of it.
About twelve years ago, I was in a slightly-upmarket Chinese restaurant near Highbury Corner in London. We gradually realised that Gilbert & George were sitting nearby, at the most prominent table in the joint, along with another arty-looking man. We also gradually realised that they seemed to be ordering food; when it would arrive at the table, they would photograph it, and then it would be sent back. They weren’t eating anything. Just photographing it. Was this distracting? Yes. Was everyone in the restaurant eventually watching this performance rather than enjoying their own food? Of course they were. I’m not actually a huge fan of G&G’s work, but was I glad to have been there? Of course I was.
UPDATE – February 14th:
I am grateful to commenter Simon Legend for pointing out a piece on the Quietus website by Pavel Godfrey exploring these issues further:
“If it were just about the caché of a certain space, though, we would be seeing more pictures of exteriors, signs, kitchens, awkwardly smiling waitstaff. Instead, we see the food itself, a celebration not just of where one is eating but what one is eating, and of the act of ingestion itself. Just as the food becomes incorporated into a living body, its image is assimilated into that body’s digital shade. It’s akin to leaving food for a household god, but in this case the god demanding nourishment is the self, projected into the internet as a carefully engineered complex of images and “likes.” The amateur food-photographer has a fetishistic relationship not just to the chosen dining spot, or food, but to their self-representation. It means nothing to them – indeed, it appears right and proper – to disrupt their own meal for the sake of feeding their externalized, reified persona.”