Food is a necessity for daily life and good health (the right kinds anyway), but food is also fast becoming something of an Art as well as many turn to their cameras once a mammoth baking session is over and capture the delightful dishes in attractive and alluring ways. Since the beginnings of Still Life Photography, food has been a subject and whilst the topic has remained the same - methods, equipment and ease have changed in varying degrees across the years. Food Photography is still a genre that is vastly overlooked and majorly underrated in the art world.
It all began with Still Life Paintings back in the 17th Century. They were as far from commercial as a style could get and certainly weren't created with selling in mind. However the skill and main aspects that realism painters took back in the 17th Century are kept close to the hearts of Food Photographers today as they grip onto Realism, effects of light, composition and arrangement. Props have always been an important part of still life captures - many years ago baskets and table cloths featured prominently in realism paintings and today we have drifted back to the vintage times with rough wood surfaces, checked cloths and baskets becoming the central focus of a still life food arrangement.
The leading areas for Still Life Photography were Rome, The Netherlands and parts of Northern France. Here the still life paintings often focused on local culinary dishes or tables laden with food to show richness and wealth. In Spanish regions, still life focus was on food in small areas. In Florence they were simple creations with scientific influence. Meaning has and hopefully always will be important in still life captures. Much thought is given to arrangements, lighting and message - in the 16th and 17th century these were particularly related to religious connotations and social concern.
The one element that remained the same across all the regions that played home to still life art was that people were not involved. In the larger, grouped and crowded shots of people at banquet tables and sharing a feast the food rarely became the topic of the artwork. Instead, the people were the main feature. And we know that introducing any form of human into still life work instantly voids it as belonging to that genre. The English in particular, declined to paint human interaction at the table and indeed that is true today of many culinary displays where we prefer to arrange our food in natural environments without the influence of people.
In the 19th Century, the first food related photographs started to appear. They were copied still lives that focused on realism, composition and light - the essential ingredients to creating any photograph. Nicephore Niepce provided photography with its first ever still life - a table set for a meal in 1827. Daguerre then followed in 1837 with Bayard producing by 1840. Henry Fox Talbot also photographed an overflowing basket of fruit in 1842 - and later went on to create a series focusing on fruit baskets on patterned tablecloths. (Popular even today!)
Food Photography then went one step further and the first ever illustrated cookbook appeared in Paris in 1867. It was created using Chromolithographs and featured in a book written by Jules Gouffe - a well known French Chef. This began our forray into the illustrated cookery book world - the attraction soon caught on and today in the modern world, it's strange to find a cookery book without photos.