Amateur food photography is nothing new. What else can be said about the now mundane practice of pausing before a meal to document it so the image can be shared and admired? Perhaps nothing, but I’m going to share the following experience, anyway.
About a month ago, I treated myself to a day at the Huntington Library. After wandering the gardens and visiting the Reformation exhibit, I decided to have some lunch in their upscale cafeteria. I took my tray outside to what I’ll call the veranda, because I like that word, and sat happily alone amidst people of various ages. That day there was a high school group visiting, probably a private school judging by their uniforms. The girls wore sweaters and skirts. (What’s with private school uniforms and skirts? Beyond the scope of this post…)
So there I sat, eating a passably tasty veggie wrap and enjoying the fresh air and the murmured conversation that filled it, when into my field of vision walked a trio of private school students with their own lunch trays. They selected a table at the edge of the veranda that overlooked the gardens, set down their trays, and sat. But as soon as they had done so they were standing again, each of them taking a step or two backward with their smartphones held aloft, attempting to properly frame their respective meals. After taking satisfactory pictures, they sat and proceeded to eat.
I took out my notebook and made a sketch of the scene, along with a few notes:
Daily documentation — visual — as cultural practice. The three girls photographed their curated collections of comestibles, making the quotidian significant, adding a layer of ritual (visual documentation) to another type of ritual (meal sharing), which will in turn be ritually disseminated on social media (sharing of the visual documentation of meal sharing — nay, meal plating).
Or does the ubiquity of such a practice mean that the quotidian is just that, and layering these rituals temporally is no longer in itself significant? When so many snap pictures of their food to share them in the pursuit of technologically mediated attention, is that not simply a mundane cultural practice?
No less meaningful, but meaningful in a proscribed, ritualized way.
I suppose I mean to say that it’s no longer art.
4 responses to “Wait! Before we eat…”
One reason I know I am old is that this is still strange–nay, bizarre–to me. What does it say that we want others to consume (visually) what we are (supposedly) about to consume (orally)? And after creating and sending the image, does it matter whether I actually eat the food I have indicated to the world I’m about to eat? Is there a subculture of people sending images of food they’re only *pretending* to consume for purposes of status? Is it simply not done to send images of food that I definitely *won’t* eat, and letting my viewers know that that’s the case? And the more I write this, which I began in jest, the more I feel a research proposal (or a very strange short story) coming on…
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Yes, there’s a subculture of people taking pictures of food they’re not eating–“cultural influencers.” Those instagram people who (bafflingly) make money from doing so. Attention economy, and all that. Also, please keep me posted on any research proposals that come out of this, because I think you could do a lot with this craziness.
Love this piece! I find it strange that people post their meals (unless it’s a big celebration of some sort). They’re usually either anorexic-looking girls
and women who seem to be showing they can eat anything and never gain an ounce, or folks on holiday in exotic places, saying (essentially) “I can
afford this feast, you poor peons”. Strange!
Interesting observations on who posts these types of pictures and why. I’ve found–at least in our area–that it’s all sorts of (mostly young) people, and it’s become a kind of obligatory practice to document meals. Especially meals eaten out, like fancy brunch. Although I’ve also seen people photograph dishes at a potluck before we were allowed to dig in.