Before we start, let’s consider these two ideas that are alive and well today. The first is that there are a hierarchy of images, or at least, a set of rules that ranks images within a system. The second is that a segment of culture is now produced through free or cheap labour that serves as a foundation for network culture. These two ideas are intertwined in the avenues through which we experience the world, not only digital platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Yelp, Google Books etc., but also through physical, ‘in-real-life’ (if we can indulge that distinction for a second) avenues – from film festivals, advertisements, exhibitions to print. To talk about the ubiquity of these two ideas is pointless, what we need to examine is what these ideas produce, and from there what possibilities we have around it.

 

Food photography of course is the perfect culprit. Let’s throw out the complaints that networked food photography is banal, or is a symptom of social media oversharing and egotism. Looking at boring, overworked things is what helps you look past the obviousness of what has become familiar to us – what Louis Althusser calls an “elementary ideological effect”[1], and that’s what makes food photography so interesting in network culture. The problem that has emerged through food photography on theClick Here to Enter is that as a consequence of its design, only a certain type of images are allowed to exist. Now, note that I am not crying at the loss of culture, because that culture is not dead. But what I want to do is to use this consequence – that only certain types of images survive – as a way to try to change what we do as users as well as developers, if such a distinction exists.

 

We will see how this manifest specifically on the amateur realm of food photography. On a commercial level – that is, professional food photography – this effect is obvious. From Ditte Isager’s pastorally melancholic photography for Noma’s cookbook to the food stylists efforts in creating a ‘photo’ version of a dish by chilling herbs and cooling pasta, professional food photography is immediately identifiable from amateur food photography. We do not take pictures of food in the way we eat them. In Indonesian, the phrase “eating with your eyes” is synonymous with excess. The hard shadow and the busy countertop spread set the standard for what food photography should look like, but they disappear and become banal as soon as you can pinpoint its popularity. But what does ‘setting the standard’ really mean? That is – through what mechanism does this aesthetic spread? I believe this question is not cultural but also technical and open-ended, which means that we can identify specific ways that a photograph of food becomes a food photograph. The amateur food photograph, I will argue, is one loser, an artefact designed to be an outcast, that we should become more familiar with.

 

[1] Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (Delhi: Aakar Books, 2006), 116.

(If you see this, you must go back. He is waiting)