Feast for the Eyes: The Story of Food in Photography – The Photographers Gallery
The idea of an exhibition of food photography did not exactly fill me with excitement but I thought it would be a good gallery visit to assess the way the group show was curated and designed. I was pleasantly surprised by this show, and is probably one of my favourites this year!
The show could be described as a history of the very best food photography made since the invention of photography itself. Photographic prints by an array of influential practitioners were included in the show: Andy Warhol, Wolfgang Tillmans, Stephen Shore, Martin Parr, Nobuyoshi Araki, Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin to name but a few. Many of the Photographers in the show probably wouldn’t be thought of primarily as ‘food photographers’ but it seems food is such a universal subject it can be found in the majority of artists oeuvre. The pictures in the show include commercial, fashion, fine-art, documentary and vernacular photography and display the history of food photography and it’s association with the arts.
The show takes up two floors of the Photographers Gallery and includes more than 140 works. The curators Susan Bright and Denise Wolff have created three themes: Still Life reflects on the relationship between photography and the tradition of food in painting, Around the Table explores cultural and social interactions associated with food and Playing With Food includes more humorous, and ironic works.
What immediately hits you when you enter this show is the colour. The walls are painted either bright red, blue or yellow depending on the theme. These colourful backdrops give the show an almost pop-art feel which is lively and cheerful, great when the weather is so grey and miserable! The show really is a riot of colour when you combine some of the vibrant and colourful works by the likes of Parr, Tillmans and Shore with the colourful backdrops. Historical works by the likes of William Fox Talbot, Paul Strand and Edward Weston anchor the exhibition with some important historical context. Their smaller framed black and white prints display strong a relationship with still life painting and a reliance on light and form.
It’s hard not to like the colourful works of Stephen Shore and their commentary on American society. I was surprised to see the two colour prints by Russell Lee made in the 1940’s for the Farm Security Administration. Historically interesting it is reminder of the fragility of the food chain and the unfair distribution of food throughout the world.
I have to admit I was much more intrigued by the more contemporary artists in the show whose full colour large format prints offer an immersive experience to the viewer. Wolfgang Tillmans ‘Summer still life’ 1995 is a firm favourite of mine. The unusual viewpoint, precise composition and some unconventional objects enhance the viewing experience. Tillmans print is very large and unframed. Cindy Sherman’s ‘Beach Picnic’ offers an unusual and colorful commentary on society and it’s sometimes complicated relationship with food.
How will this study visit effect my practice:
Something that made an impact on me while viewing this exhibition was the coloured walls and the huge amount of quality works on display. I am so used to going to galleries and seeing the standard white walls it seemed quite refreshing to see a different approach. It made me think about how my work could look with a different coloured background. The venue for my own exhibition has a display board that is coloured red. This could be perfect for my own project as the red could be symbolic of the blood spilt at all the places that I have photographed effected by conflict. Also it has made me consider how my prints will be displayed and whether they should framed or not. I feel that the smaller prints that are grouped together benefit from being framed while larger stand alone works work well unframed. I am considering making a mixture of smaller framed prints and larger prints mounted prints.
Going to a show of this quality was very enjoyable and inspiring. It reminds me how much I love photography and what can be achieved in this medium. The quality of the work and the way it has been presented inspires me to make something of similar quality albeit on a smaller scale.