A feast for the eyes? In an age where pretty much anyone can call themselves a foodie, with an ongoing craze for the perfect Instagrammable dish, contemporary food staging and photography is well and truly thriving. Alongside a booming food industry, there are a whole host of photographers, designers, stylists and chefs working tirelessly to capture not just that perfect taste sensation, but the best looking image of the plate. From meditations on a single ingredient to epic tableaus of laden tables of produce, there is an entire movement of creatives connecting the dots between art and food. Visual Feast, a new book published by Gestalten, shines a light on these ambitious collaborative projects, bringing together the pick of the bunch from an international array of talent.
The result is a riotous, colourful affair, steeped in the absurd, joyful, epic pleasure of food in all its forms. Even amidst the wide-ranging diversity of images on offer, there is a willingness to embrace experimentation and new technologies that unites the many artists featured. A variety of commissioned and editorial and conceptual explorations are presented, offering a rich portrait of food as an encapsulation of contemporary culture and values.
“As a measure of our cravings and addictions, food offers a powerful insight into the psychology of abstention and temptation“
There is wide scope for playful juxtapositions, with gluttonous abundance jutting up against the minimalism of the weight-loss diet; junk food versus a single vegetable. As a measure of our cravings and addictions, food offers a powerful insight into the psychology of abstention and temptation, and the artists and photographers in Visual Feast use these tensions to great effect. In the photography of Heami Lee, junk food is lavishly laid out in all its pastel-coloured glory, with a pink milkshake, cream cakes and shiny donuts laid on thick, as much a work of art as mouthwateringly appealing.
For artist Eric Wert, food becomes a vehicle for intensive observation, in hyperreal still life paintings of glistening grapefruits, half a dozen plump oysters or an array of vegetables. Part homage to the Renaissance still life, which often featured fruit, vegetables and meat, part crazed celebration of the details to be observed even in each segment of a single citrus fruit, it is a love letter to the pleasure not just of eating but of looking. This is a common theme throughout the book, as the colours, textures and form of food is celebrated in its many variations.
Photographer Dan Matthews focuses on the act of cutting, slicing and grating in his stylized images of hands taking kitchen implements to cheese, carrots and a hard boiled egg. The decisive action of chopping is shown to be both satisfying and strangely violent, focusing in on the unthinking actions of everyday life in the kitchen until they become strange once more. Artist duo Mathery, meanwhile, manipulate the shape of ordinary foodstuffs; under their direction, a burger takes on a newly triangular form, a pizza undulates in exaggerated waves, and instant noodles become tube-like.
“Visual Feast is a celebration of the untapped potential of food, taking it far beyond the boundaries of the chef’s table“
Food is a useful vehicle for colour, as observed by countless artists past and present, something that is put to particularly evocative effect in the nostalgia-infused images by a number of photographers. This is most apparent in the work of Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari, who showcase vividly coloured jellies with sparklers stuck into them, pink painted fingernails inserted into prawn heads, and even a garish frankfurter dipped in a mug of black coffee. It is thoroughly throwback, full of sixties and seventies glamour, with a touch of pop art influence thrown in for good measure. It is also cheerfully absurdist, something taken up by David Luciano in his shot of an iron flattening a cheese toastie; cleverly executed and spectacularly silly, it is a perfect amalgamation of food and frivolity.
At its heart, Visual Feast is a celebration of the untapped potential of food, taking it far beyond the boundaries of the chef’s table or home kitchen. Food is shown as a spectacle and a theatrical prop, freed from the considerations of what might taste good or keep us healthy. This is a stage for indulgence, and for all of your wildest fantasies to come true. It all looks good enough to eat, so go right ahead and tuck in.