Wednesday, April 28, 2010

An interesting approach to food photography

Hamburger Spread, photograph used for Mc Call's Magazine, circa 1944
Credit: Nickolas Muray/Courtesy of the National Museum of American History Photographic History Collection

When I think of food photography, I generally think of appetizing close-ups of fresh produce or sizzling dishes with brightly colored ingredients that instantaneously make you drool. Today I read a thoughtful piece on NPR called "Color Sells: Nickolas Murray's Food Photography." It made me think just how much food photography and the art of food styling has changed over the years. Murray is credited as being one of the earliest adapters of the three-color carbro process, a photographic technique which enabled him to create images with color that were incredibly saturated and meant to make the food featured even more irresistible to the viewer. This particular style of food photography came of age in the 1940s and 1950s in publications such as Mc Call's, Vogue and many other fashion and lifestyle magazines.

The article debunked a mystery that I had been curious about for quite some time. Since I have always enjoyed perusing through cookbooks of yesteryear, I have more than once come across those that have featured this kind of photography. In fact, I remember coming across several of these at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks when I lived in New York. To me, the photos always looked a bit contrived, too stiff and frankly unappetizing. The food in these types of photos seemed to a bit too waxy, but I can still relish (no pun intended here) the artistic quality of the shots. They are extremely stylized, with a hint of reverse photo-realism, in that some of the photos almost look like paintings. It's a look that I will always associate with a particular era, where jello molds were loved by all and maraschino cherries were the garnish of choice!

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