Feast for the Eyes

Feast for the Eyes – The Story of Food in Photography
The Photographers’ Gallery

This is larger than I expected with over 140 works on display. I hadn’t done much in the way of finding out about this before I visited and really had no preconceptions about the overall theme. The exhibition is divided into three sections; Still Life, Around the Table and Playing with Food, with each section easily identified by a different colour scheme on the gallery wall.

The curators (Susan Bright and Denise Wolff) have chosen a wide selection of photographers and images from all ages of photographic history. As well as works made specifically as art, there are several from magazines and books where the image has been used to describe a lifestyle, or in some cases as instructions. There seemed a bit too many of these to me, and the excessive (to me) repetition rather over-egged the point. There are many very interesting still-life images though, some that played with the whole idea of still-life to make something new. Daniel Gordon’s images of fruit made from bits of paper are especially fun.

The Around the Table section was the one that appealed to me most as this one connected with people’s lives much more than the other two. Nan Goldin’s ‘Picnic on the Esplanade’ totally worked as a way of showing how food helps us to connect and relax. Likewise Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘On the Banks of the Marne’, with these two showing how food consumption is a ritual that helps bond family and friends. Martin Parr’s photograph of people queuing for tea and hot dogs in New Brighton both supports and subverts this idea; the image mostly suggests a free-for-all rather than any kind of shared ritual. Another aspect of his work that chimes strongly with the entire exhibition is his use of bold, bright colours. Many of the works on show are very rich in colour.

As the title suggests, Playing with Food is mainly works that use food as props to suggest alternative meanings (and often overlaps with Still Life). Two images by Jo Ann Callis from her ‘Cheap Thrill’s work are fun and suggestive, emphasising the connection between food and sex.

It seemed to me the exhibition is concerned with food as aesthetic space, or food as social adhesive. I would have liked it more if it had included food production as well; it seemed that the curators largely avoided any concern with the politics of food. Overall the exhibition comes across as more of a fondant fancy than a full meal

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