Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thinking About Food Photography- Part One

I've been doing a lot of thinking about food photography as I prepare to teach my History of Photography class this fall.  It is impossible to teach students everything that happened between the invention of photography and 1960, which is the cut off date for my class.  We spend very little time talking about food photography and when we do, I am always painfully aware of the other beautiful and compelling photographs that will remain unseen and undiscussed as a result.

I start out each term telling my students that they will NOT learn everything they need to know about the history of photography in 16 weeks and that each week I will make a terrible choice to leave out  a number of photographs that have changed the way we see the world, as well as a number of personal favorites.  I also tell my students that if they tell me about specific photographers or photographs they want to discuss, we will make time for them, syllabus and schedule be damned.  I tell them one of my secret weaknesses to get the ball rolling.  I tell them that I love stereo photography and that we will discuss it at great length because I find it so fascinating.  The smart students realize that they can at least briefly distract me from almost any lecture topic by asking if a certain subject has ever been shot in 3D.  Unfortunately, this has been my "secret" for three years in a row now and my passion for stereo photography has become a well-known feature of my class.  I think this term I will reveal that my secret passion is food photography.

It may seems strange to plan to tell my students a "secret", but I got the idea from Mr. Porterfield, my brilliant high school humanities teacher.  Mr. Porterfield could always be distracted by two topics.  1.  The Vietnam War.  2.  The film "The Shining".  This knowledge was a highly guarded secret passed down by older brothers and sisters to each incoming class.  Mr. Porterfield knew that we would eventually discover his favorite topics of conversation and I believe he was happy when we did.  Letting students in on a secret and letting them feel that they're getting away with something is a good way to get them excited about class.  Mr. Porterfield was great at always bringing these topics back around to whatever we were supposed to be studying.  He could view any topic or period in history through the lens of the Vietnam War or The Shining and we couldn't wait to hear his kooky ideas.  Mr. Porterfield encouraged us to think about historical ideas in new ways and to let our own passions guide the way we viewed the world.  He knew this would happen anyway, and he helped us become conscious of our own filters and to use them in creative ways.  I think this a good way to teach, and a good way to make photographs.  

I've got to get down to the business of writing my syllabus now, but I will continue this discussion in a future post.  I have a few things to say about my own "filters" and how I make food photographs for this blog.  And after that, perhaps I'll write about great food photos of the past.  But someone may have to ask me a question about it first...