Taking Pictures of Food

It seems that I am not the only one to have this little obsession. So many of you out there participate, that the New York Times is reporting on it. The passion?

Taking pictures of food.

Keeping a photographic food diary is a growing phenomenon with everything from truffle-stuffed suckling pig to humble bowls of Cheerios being captured and offered for public consumption. Indeed, the number of pictures tagged “food” on the photo-sharing Web site Flickr has increased tenfold to more than six million in the last two years, according to Tara Kirchner, the company’s marketing director. One of the largest and most active Flickr groups, called “I Ate This,” includes more than 300,000 photos that have been contributed by more than 19,000 members. There would be more, but members are limited to 50 photos a month.

I should add that I administer (very loosely) a group on Flickr called Food Porn. It has 350,000 photos, and 21,500 members. Jus’ sayin’.

Now it used to be that I could say that I was taking pictures for the sole purpose of putting up content on this here site. But a quick perusal of my personal catalog will reveal hundreds of pictures which have never, and will never, see the light of day on Accidental Hedonist. So then the question becomes, if a great majority of the pictures I take of food will never be published, then why take them at all?

Why do any of us?

The answer is different for each person. The article mentions one person who uses picture taking to seek out more adventurous food. Another person uses it to help keep their diet in check.

For me, part of the answer is simply practice. Given the limited photographic tools I have available, I should learn to use them to their optimal ability. How far I succeed in that i certainly debatable, but I do like to think that the pictures I’m taking now…

…are far more interesting than the pictures I was taking six years ago.

Practice is only part of equation here, because I have to admit that there are several photos I have that bring back fond memories. They work as a bit of a journal in my own life. Working with and writing about food are oftentimes solitary endeavors for me, and the photographs work as a means of remembrance.

Is there something psychological going on in the back ground? The article implies that there is.

“In the unconscious mind, food equals love because food is our deepest and earliest connection with our caretaker,” said Kathryn Zerbe, a psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders and food fixations at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. “So it makes sense that people would want to capture, collect, catalog, brag about and show off their food.”

I’m not so sure Dr. Zerbe has it right. Take the two pictures I have posted above. I feel almost no connection to the bottom photograph, and it doesn’t produce any response from me aside from “Huh. I remember taking that picture. I wonder if I can find the recipe again?”

But the top picture elicits all sorts of responses, where it instantly brings back an memory of how the biscuit tasted, its texture, how it smelled, and where I was sitting when I ate it. It draws me into a moment of expectation and joy.

The two examples mentioned above are simply doing what the great majority of photographs do – they either document a specific moment in time for its own sake, or it reminds us of a moment in time that brought us a bit of happiness. In essence, a picture of an ice cream sundae, or plate of tacos has the same purpose as a picture of the Eiffel Tower or Grand Canyon. Many pictures of food state nothing more than “I did this, and I think it was pretty awesome.”

To ascribe anything more than that is to pet a horse whilst blindfolded, and call it a zebra.