Feast for the Eyes offers taste of food photography through the years

Source: vancouversun.com

Q&A: North Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery’s new exhibit may leave you feeling just a little hungry

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Feast for the Eyes: The Story of Food in Photography

When: March 4-May 30.

Where: The Polygon Gallery, 101 Carrie Cates Ct., North Vancouver


Food is the subject of Feast for the Eyes, an exhibit that features work by more than 60 photographers and artists stretching back more than 100 years. We talked to co-curator Denise Wolff, who is with the New York-based Aperture Foundation, about whether visitors to the upcoming Canadian premiere of the show will feel hungry, who has the best cookbooks and whether this historical perspective on food photography justifies sharing photos of your lunch on social media.

Q: Where did the idea for the exhibit come from?

A: I had been interested in photographs of food for a long time. I had been thinking about a book but I didn’t have an author for it. One day I ran into (photography curator and writer) Susan Bright. I found out she was very interested in food as well. We thought, “We have to do this as a book.” Then we decided that it would be a great exhibition.

Q: Will people leave the show feeling hungry?

A: I don’t know. Sometimes they might feel hungry. Even some things that are quite beautiful don’t always look particularly appetizing. I did gain weight while working on the book. That does tell you something. Looking at photos of food does play into how we’re wired. We can look at food and feel hungry and feel disgusted. It has that power. There’s definitely individual reactions.


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Q: Were there any surprises for you while sourcing these images? Maybe as you were looking at food photography in ads from different periods?

A: I love the ads. By themselves, they were a little less surprising. Seeing things in context, like looking at the commercial photography in the ’70s and seeing how an artist like Stephen Shore was responding to that opened a different way of seeing his work. The Time-Life Foods of the World books with covers that use one dish to represent a whole nation (a soufflé for France) came out around the same time he was photographing (his 1982 book) Uncommon Places. He is working against the aspirational agenda of commercial photography, but still using food as a shortcut for larger ideas about America.

There’s something about seeing it all together and realizing how much reverberates between pop culture and high culture. I think that comes out in the show. And also looking at how food has been photographed over time, you realize that one day our ideas about food and photographs of it will be vintage as well.

Ouka Leele’s Peluquería, Limones (1979) is part of the Feast Your Eyes exhibit at the Polygon Gallery. Photo by Courtesy, Ouka Leele

Q: The exhibit includes a selection of cookbooks, local and from other parts of the world. Who has the best ones?

A: I really think the Germans take the cake, literally. The German baking cookbooks after World War I are particularly impressive. Coming out of food rationing and shortages, and even sometimes when ingredients like sugar and eggs aren’t yet widely available, they’re publishing gorgeously illustrated cookbooks of cakes and elaborate confections in colour. These were clearly meant to be something to dream about returning to after the war, a way of re-establishing culture, rather than practical or home use. They’re beautiful volumes, unbelievably made, some over a foot tall. The Süsse Kunst Neuzeitliches Schaffen in der Konditorei (Sweet Art. Modern Creations in Confectionary) from 1930 is not to be missed.


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Q: Social media types sometimes get blasted for posting pictures of their meals. Does this exhibit give meaning to this behaviour?

A: I think this exhibit is very Instagrammable! Instagrammers will see that photographing and sharing photographs of food has been going on since photography started. Just as food is social so are pictures of food. Food on Instagram is very interesting. More people are concerned about how food looks, not for those consuming the food, but for an audience consuming pictures of food. This is an interesting shift. It’s more for public consumption, akin to publishing or advertising.

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