Susan Bright generously gave a free talk to students of mine and many other guests last week on her brilliant and fun Feast for the eyes.
She talked about the fringe that exists between the familiarity of images and an 'offness', a particular element that makes images interesting, engaging and visually distinctive from the generic visual mass of images.
I love that idea of offness - the idea that when anything is too visually tied to a particular photographic lineage and becomes generically fixed in visual strategies it becomes quite tedious, a wisp of an idea that disappears as soon as you bite down upon it, the visual equivalent of a overaerated espuma, a puff of air underflavoured by anything other than empty conceit.
So great food photography is not about the beautiful, in fact the beautiful picture is almost irrelevant here. But not quite.
Instead it's about the humanity and the absurdity of it all, but at an accessible level. The idea for Feast for the eyes started with the abundance and excess of 1950s advertising, a time of idealised plenty that spread around the English-speaking world in particular and reached its apogee in the 1970s (in the UK), where that combination of us abundance and the descendants of an Elizabeth David celebrations of the Mediterranean were beginning to permeate UK food culture - but not quite getting it right. There's that offness again.
I remember that time, a period when the Americanisation of English food found commercialised expression in the space age adventures of powdered exoticisms like Angel's Delight, Smash, and Rise and Shine, an English powdered orange juice, when the future of food was still tied to the space age and the notion that we'd all be living off optimised food pills.
Though Feast for the eyes is the history of food through photography, it's not about photography and not about food, but about the cultures in which food is embedded in and arise from. These cultures are commercial, scientific, artistic, social, and massively political, but for me the most important cultures are those based on pleasure - because there is a pleasure in the images. They look great, they feel great, but in ways that are celebratory, exuberant, sensual, and just made. And that idea of pleasure in food comes across in the book and the exbibition, which is ultimately about the ways in which the different functions of photography connect to those culture, but are entirely subservient to them.
Feast for the eyes was the first in a series of lectures Susan is giving.
The next is on Tuesday 14th April, at 4pm UK time. It's on Home Truths: Photography and Motherhood and again, that idea of offness, of images that go far beyond conventional images of photography and motherhood is apparent, as are questions about what we assume the mental, physical and relational states of motherhood are, and the ways in which photography can take us beyond those assumptions.
And if you're interested in joining, use this link - meet.google.com/niw-aarn-rrs
It won't work until the meeting is opened about 15 minutes before the talk.
Or send me a message and I'll send you an invite (which will also send you the link.