A feast for the eyes: Online and in print, food photography enters a golden age

Editor’s Note: Ananda Pellerin is editor of The Gourmand, an award-winning, biannual food and culture journal.

CNN  — 

It’s been six years since The Gourmand’s first issue was published. These days there are plenty of journals and magazines – not to mention websites, Instagram accounts and blogs – that offer a view from the junction of culture and food. But when The Gourmand took its first steps, this road was far less traveled.

Two titles out of New York – diverting zine Put A Egg On It, and chef David Chang’s punk-spirited Lucky Peach, which has recently (and sadly) published its last issue – come to mind as other outlets that were experimenting with new approaches to representing food, traversing the byways of art, design, fashion and music along the way.

But it’s not just the world of small press that’s wild for food. Eating has taken on a lot of cultural weight.

A somewhat arbitrary point of reference: Since the Food Network launched in 1993, countless cooking shows have covered all sorts of terrain, from “Iron Chef” to “Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.” Restaurateurs, chefs and sommeliers are celebrities with publicity machines and cookbooks covering global cuisines – “Angela Hartnett’s Cucina,” “Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine” by René Redzepi, “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Gustav Almestal for The Gourmand Issue 04

So food may be mass culture, but it’s morphed into some fairly niche forms as well. Culinary art exhibitionists Bompas & Parr, who create living jellies and alcoholic mists, are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. The University of California Press’ cerebral journal Gastronomica is in its 16th year, and 2013 film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” a quiet documentary about an 85-year-old sushi master, took over $2 million at the US box office.

People are consuming food culture in a multitude of ways: as entertainment, as intellectual pursuit, as art.

Unsurprisingly, with this increasing interest in what we eat there has been a rise in food photography. Online, people painstakingly document their meals or cooking processes – but it’s not just snaps on phones. There is a new breed of publication that puts a premium on quality. Lotta and Per-Anders Jorgensen’s Fool embodies the new Nordic spirit that has had such a huge influence on cuisine over the last decade, while Kinfolk cater to the trend for pretty, bird’s-eye-view plating shots.

Jenny van Sommers' covers for The Gourmand Issue 06

There is a tradition here, harking back to Dutch still lifes, and also to the post-war diner fare depicted by 96-year-old American painter Wayne Thiebaud (who The Gourmand interviewed for the current issue.)

There’s early 20th-century pioneer Edward Weston’s disorienting details of mushroom caps and cabbage, and Irving Penn’s gloriously gross still lifes – raw steak, egg, potato chip and butter – or Fischli & Weiss’ playfully moribund sandwich meats.

Contemporary practitioner Laura Letinsky takes a painterly approach with her messy-minimalist table scenes, while the irreverent Martin Parr offers slices of saturated pink-sprinkled cakes. For light relief, there’s Swiss artist Olaf Breuning’s food faces on Instagram.

What all these examples have in common is that they’re not really food photographers. For them, food is the jumping-off point for a concept or narrative or moment, but it is rarely the end goal.

Blommers & Schumm for The Gourmand Issue 07

We take a similar approach at The Gourmand. To keep raising the bar, we offer open briefs to photographers, set designers, food stylists and illustrators, who come to us with ideas ranging from beautiful trash (Blommers & Schumm, issue 07), to the lives of Filipino workers living in Dubai (Bronia Stewart, issue 08).

Also, for us, words are just as important as images. In our latest issue, we have a fiction piece by American author Gary Indiana, who uses lobster as a trope to talk about dignity and loss. There’s also an entertaining exploration of the strange vegetarian commune led by Father Yod in 1960s Los Angeles, written by Hannah Lack. We’ve also got an exclusive interview with Cookie Monster, our cover star, shot by Roe Ethridge.

All of this represents the breadth and depth that can be achieved when imaginative minds are left free to explore the fundamental – not to mention weird, wonderful, beautiful, ugly, and endlessly relevant – topic of food.

The Gourmand Issue 09 is available in stores now.