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The history of food photography from Betty Crocker to Cindy Sherman.

There’s ample food for thought in Feast for the Eyes, a study of the evolution of food photography. From the familiar simplicity of a boiled egg perched in a porcelain eggcup, to the elegant (if outmoded) spreads featured in women’s lifestyle magazines from the ’40s, more than 300 photos have been curated to reveal food photography’s changing presence in our lives.

For author Susan Bright, the food captured in the photos does more than simply look appealing, although it often does that, too. Rather, it serves to document a society through its rituals, many of which center around eating. “Photographs of food are rarely just about food,” she writes. “They hold our lives and time up to the light.”

As the book reveals, humans’ relationship to food can range from the joy of a celebratory meal together to the disordered self-harm outlined in Cindy Sherman’s work from the ’80s. The way we eat—and our compulsion to document it—bears witness to food’s profound significance, both on a personal level and within a wider societal framework. As Susan explains, “It carries our desires and fantasies; it can stand in for sex, be a signal of status, or engage in our politics, betraying our attitudes about immigration, domestic issues, the environment, animal rights, and travel.”

  • Words:
    Pip Usher
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