What is Food Porn?

Over at Flickr, I maintain a group called Food Porn. It’s a healthy little community, with over 23,000 members, and over 300,000 pictures in the library. Honestly, one of the major reasons it’s so popular is that I was able to claim an obvious group name early in Flickr’s history. When it comes to traffic, it’s often about three things – location, location, and luck.

Over the course of the years, community members come and go, and a few new members often find themselves raging over the idea that sometimes the pictures simply aren’t “porny” enough. Part of this argument stems from the idea of exclusivity that perpetuates Flickr groups. To some members, if a picture isn’t perfect, then it shouldn’t be in a group.

I see such arguments as nonsense. While there are pictures that are better than others, I’ve always thought that groups (either online or in real life) should be more inclusive rather than exclusive. So I let anyone post, as long as they meet the poorly formed mission statement of the group:

All pictures should represent a moment of deliciousness in your life. A moment when you couldn’t wait to take a bite of the food, but waited an extra second in order to take a picture of your impending bliss. Hopefully you can communicate that desire for that dish with your picture, but I’m not going to penalize anyone if their pic is lacking in anyway.

All I ask is that you try your best.

But setting aside the inclusive argument for a moment, there is a relavent question here. What makes a picture of food “porny” or “not porny”? Yes, there are some basic techniques of lighting, composition, and close-ups that help convey the idea of deliciousness that many people strive for, but at some point is there a “food porn is in the eye of the beholder” argument that can be made?

I will admit that I am one of those people who take a fair amount of pictures of my food. (I no longer know why I do this, as most of the pictures never make it to this website, which was my initial intention.) Over the course of the years of taking pictures, I’ve learned a few things which make some of my pics better than others.

But here’s the thing: What I interpret as aesthetically pleasing one day, will look completely uninteresting to me a few months later. All the technical aspects of the shot will be good to great, but the subject itself became uninteresting. For lack of a better phrase, it lost its “porniness.”

So here are the questions – presuming technical skill is apparent, what pushes a shot of food from the mundane to average, to one which elicits an emotional response? What defines a picture as food porn?

Granted, the questions are as complicated as “What makes art”, but I am interested in the discussion, because I have no good answer. And because I have no good answer, it allows me to be more inclusive in the Food Porn group, under the “to each their own” argument. But it does make for interesting debate.