Food photography is one of the most challenging and yet simplest forms of still life art you can produce, with hours of preparation and more than a few interesting tricks and . used to get that one perfect shot.
Done correctly, food photography proves right the old adage that the first taste is with the eye, which decades of research and centuries of anecdotes have proven to be the case.
Despite the Instagram generation refining and re-refining the art of making pictures of food look more delicious than the real thing, food photography has evolved from the very first shots ever taken up until the present day.
Here are some of the most influential and iconic pieces of food photography.
A Fruit Piece
Possibly the first-ever food photographer was a man by the name of William Henry Fox Talbot, who created photographs of fruit as a subject just six years after the invention of the daguerreotype, the first practical photograph.
The very first example was A Fruit Piece, which was dated to around 1845 and was a simple picture of two baskets filled with peaches and a pineapple. It was highly influenced by still life paintings and was relatively simple in nature, but would provide the basis of everything that was to follow.
Still Life Of Exotic Fruits And Lizard From Ceylon
One of the first exotic photographs that have a more unique and elaborate form of composition was by William Louis Henry Skeen, who started a photography studio in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and took pictures of what were at the time seen as exotic fruits.
This photo, a still life of exotic fruits and a lizard, showcased a rather exotic setting, one that would have been fascinating to a Victorian audience in an age before the international holiday was a common event.
Hunt’s Tomato Catsup
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, food photography was primarily in black and white, inspired by modernism and creating a subtle shift towards the dynamic, powerful food photography that became de jour throughout most of the 20th century.
Nickolas Muray, a famed photographer known for his portraits of Frida Kahlo and took pictures of famous sports personalities like Babe Ruth and presidential portraits, was the inadvertent innovator of colour food photography.
Through a three-colour carbon print process, he was the undisputed master of, Mr Muray could create truly vivid food photography, such as the advert he made for Hunt’s Tomato Catsup.
Before this, it was rare to see food photography that was as vivid, and it would codify a lot of the conventions, elements and indeed camera tricks that would become commonplace in food photography over the next few decades.
When a true master of a craft comes along and codifies an entire genre of photography, the only way to truly affect a change is for an even more daring photographer to come along.
Enter Bob Carlos Clarke, a photographer best known for very sexually charged photography of models such as Rachel Weisz and Dita von Teese.
He worked with a then-unknown yet already Michelin star-rated chef, Marco Pierre White, on an autobiography/recipe book called White Heat in 1990.
It was a very different kind of food photography that looked far grittier and had a far greater documentary style to it, which fit Mr White’s image and created the idea of the sex symbol celebrity chef.
It revolutionised food photography, in part by rejecting many of Mr Muray’s tricks involving bright lights, soap bubbles and PVA glue, replacing it with real food cooked by real chefs, and emphasised the story and mood being told through its composition.