A very real selling point of food these days is how Instagrammable it is. Plating and first impressions have always been important. Food photography can be an incredibly complex genre, underscoring our very cryptic relationships with looking at food. We eat things because we like to or because we must. So why do we gaze at our food in the meantime?
The following two Florida photographers don’t practice traditional food photography; their photography plays with its food. These creatives take different approaches that perceptibly allow us to do the same. They understand that our visual fascination with food stretches beyond any ability to eat it, and even beyond the concept of how it may taste. They know that it becomes a game of textures, color, and that “yum” factor. We put our preconceptions of food against the suspension of disbelief that happens when we view art.
Reed Walchle: Fruit and Dessert
Reed Walchle is an Orlando photographer and retoucher who picked up a camera 3 years ago. After a quick and passionate affair with landscape and architecture photography, Walchle “settled on portraits.” His portraits navigate between bubbly Instagram content to more sharper and commercial, styles. He captures full scenes and unique frames that make each image stand out even as they all try to one-up each other.
Between the two, there are enough differences among Walchle’s posing and lens distance that instead of a competition, the gallery is just one big parade. All the floats are good. It’s a fun, vibrant portfolio with one especially delightful recurring theme: his stalwart models posing with sweet treats.
The first time Walchle shared a photo that hinged around a food item, he captioned it: “This picture took three milkshakes to get. They only looked good and fresh for a few minutes.” It was at a Steak ‘n Shake and it was a plain shake with two feet of fluffy whipped topping and two bright red maraschino cherries. The milkshake isn’t there to be Instagrammable or sell you on Steak ‘n Shake; it’s food as a prop, as a splash of interest in a minimal scene. Yet even that took three milkshakes, as he dutifully sought to capture the best version of a milkshake that ceases to exist after 200 seconds.
It’s switched off between traditional sweets (like cupcakes, cotton candy, doughnuts) and fruits as sweets (pineapple, red grapes, watermelon). In a twist of fate, the fruits are always far more naturally photogenic than the sugary food. As the series sporadically progresses, execution has gotten more succinct, and the food items star in larger and larger roles. Moving from accent pieces and added visual interest, they become a focal point that informs the rest of the image.
Big red grapes become regal when placed with the model into a classical portrait on a dark backdrop. Watermelons inspire carefree eating, and that picture is more playful. A candy apple sets the scene against the vague background of a theme park. Above all, the sweets mini-series serves to reinforce what Walchle does best with his portraits. Adding fruit or dessert over any other standard prop gives him another avenue of unique creativity.
Someone else would approach foods as props with their own techniques. Most may not be able to capture a perfect milkshake in its first 200 seconds of life. They might hate milk and want everyone to see a soggy, floppy shake that mirrors the inevitable disappointments of life. Our individual perspectives on food and its connotations make its varied depiction in art a continuing fascination.
Jason Bassett: “Tulips” and 32 Teeth
Jason Bassett is a Maryland native, but his photographic journey is inevitably tied to Miami. His forever project though, titled initially “Tulips,” is inextricably linked to the mouth.
“I think how lips become the hands of the face,” he writes in an article published in early 2016. “I think about the tiny complexities of the small world, the one we forget exists.” In the context of our mouths, consider all of their daily interactions, handling our words, tastes, and textures.
Long story short, he rented a macro lens and got up close and personal with some lips. Full, luscious lips, as it was his intention to highlight people of color. The visual effect also has an obvious strength in this; they look better for this type of photography.
You’ll see that in his first round of shooting the project, Bassett didn’t focus exclusively on food, although they were easily the majority. As time went on, food appears to be the only remaining component. Teeth play a more prominent role and the details of the foods themselves pop out at you like magic loogies. It’s all practical effects, actual materials in people’s mouths and on their faces. The images almost look fictional or created in some sort of void — hyper-realistic paintings or manipulated pop art. That’s Bassett’s style, fantasy aesthetics mixed with sensual or intimate elements.
Bassett’s latest work in the ongoing series is that of blueberries, gently yet firmly grasped between perfectly pigmented pearly whites (the perfect pigment for teeth is none). The lips are barely visible, but the blueberries drip with condensation. They appear a moment away from bursting, a detonation of indigo flavor and antioxidants on your tongue. The usage of food has always been a conscious decision, a moment to allow personal expression for the model and reflection for the audience.
Now, when you’re forced to reckon with such a direct image — only a mouth and what it’s holding — your thoughts, too, will be direct. You’ll jump to a first, visceral reaction, feel your biases and connections and understandings of a mouth, a food, a texture. These images will end up saying as much about you as they do the mouth and person in them. In this way food, the what and the how of consuming, might become as personal and intimate as sharing a kiss.