On Reflection … Week Five, Module One

Turning all attention to the Final Major Project has been the task this week.

A time for planning and organising, as well as producing some research photographs.

For most of the week it seemed that the task was expanding to fill the time available, and not just fill it – completely swamp it!

But isn’t that always the case? Why else would C. Northcote Parkinson have written his law…

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

In terms of formulating a “departure point” for my innovative body of photographic work, things are going well.

There has, however, been a few tweaks made to the project concept. Well, not a few tweaks, so much as one significant change – and for the better.

The original project concept was a photographic exploration of British cuisine.

The more I thought about this, and what I was trying to do and why, the more I felt frustrated and constrained.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a brilliant idea with bags of mileage in it. BUT … …

This is an MA in photography and whilst every photographic project needs a subject, this project was in danger of becoming an exercise in cooking as much as anything photography related.

That specific concept is something to look at in another time and another place then.

So, what’s the change?

Well, food is still going to be the subject, or at the very least feature as a subject. But before looking at the revised concept, some important background.

Images of food are an important means of documenting the social history of our relationship with food.

The food we eat, how we produce it and prepare it, and how we regard it has been recorded in works of art since the earliest times: from cave-paintings to mediaeval manuscript illuminations, from Roman mosaics to Renaissance era frescos.

Furthermore, food imagery provides a record of how society is stratified in terms of what foods are consumed by whom, where, when and how.

Using images of food as a display of wealth was especially prevalent among the Dutch masters who developed sub-genres such as pronkstilleven – ostentatious still life and ontbijtjes – breakfast pieces.

Many outstandingly beautiful still-life paintings were produced by the great Dutch masters who were attracted to the subject by the opportunities it presented to display skill in arranging strong, effective compositions and the painting of diverse textures, colours and surfaces and realistic lighting. A wide range of food, intricately patterned cutlery, ornate dining ware and delicate folds of textiles all provided an enticing challenge to artists.

The qualities of these painting appeal to me very strongly. In other words, I am strongly motivated by images, whether they are paintings or photographs, which display these aesthetic characteristics, and want to develop my personal photographic skills in order to produce equally appealing images.

Food as a subject for study through the visual arts has as much appeal today as it did in the time of the great masters.

No surprise then that photographic technology should be used to produce still-life images featuring food as the subject.

Today, however, food photography is largely driven by the need for images appropriate for use in cookbooks or advertisements, images produced using loose composition, strong lighting and selective focus to draw attention to one specific subject.

So, what is the revised concept then?

Well, it is to explore the effect that light, various lighting patterns and the elements of design have upon the aesthetics and appeal of the subjects.

Iconic dishes, contemporary classics and emerging trends from the world’s cuisines will be used to research, develop and refine a body of knowledge, the aim of which is to produce a definitive collection of food images: a masterclass in food photography.

The assessment of photographs is subjective and empirical measurements are not possible. However, a logical system of assessing the photographs produced for the project using still-life paintings by the Dutch masters as a reference point will be used.

In a nutshell, the project concept is about me using the still-life paintings of the Dutch masters as a reference point and food as a subject, taking apart food photography, analysing its component parts to explore the effect that light, various lighting patterns and the elements of design have upon the aesthetics and appeal of the subjects.

So, a significant change – and one for the betterment of the project.

On reflection, I do feel positive having made the change. I feel less constrained and open to implementing my creative ideas.

And of course, one great passion, photography is no longer in danger of being usurped by another, food …

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