Food For ThoughtMonday, December 22, 2008
A cartoon in the Vancouver Sun this week had a sentence that began with, "I should have went..." Rosemary told me that since it is in the vernacular it will soon be correct. I am not sure it is correct now and I wonder if the artist of the cartoon knew better or just didn't. I suspect he didn't and that the cartoon was not vetted by the folks at the paper.
In my photography classes at Focal Point and at Van Arts I have students who tell me they want to be fashion photographers or photo-journalists. Others tell me they want to shoot architecture or food. Some say they want to shoot for magazines. Whichever way you look at it, as things stand these days, I would say there is no immediate future in any of these specialized fields of photography. This is not because my students are not good enough to compete. They are competent and some are very good. The problem lies in the visual standards of web magazines and the fact that hard copy magazines are paying less and less.
In my career in Vancouver I have avoided fashion because fashion in a city with little catalogue work (when I came Eaton's and the Bay did local catalogue work) means that after a couple of months of fashion fame, like a comet you will be over the horizon and replaced by the next one. Fashion is the kiss of death in Vancouver. For many years the tabletop food and beverage photographers did extremely well. The work of Deryk Murray comes to mind. He became prosperous enough to buy a bank on West Hastings by the Cenotaph and converted it into the best photo studio in town. Then the bottom fell out in the industry and Murray left town, (for a while).
Shooting food and whiskey bottles with expertise is not easy. One needs all sorts of lighting resources. The investment in this kind of photography is expensive. It is as expensive as the photographers who shoot architectural interiors and are faced with the problem of not only making vertical columns in walls seem parallel but they must also balance interior lighting with the exterior. The photographer will need many powerful and expensive lights. The advent of digital means that a photographer can now shoot the exterior and the interior in separate exposures and then seamlessly meld them together. You would never know. But in order to make those parallel columns look parallel the photographer has to use an expensive 4x5 view camera and equip it with an even more expensive digital back if he or she hopes to compete in the diminishing market.
My blog is a photo blog that specializes in portraits. I will bang on my own drum and point out that I am very good at it. I try to post photographs that are well taken and well lit. I will sometimes show garden shots but I have to admit I am an amateur. I would really never show you classical architecture shots because I have never been an architectural photographer. I am not Roger Brooks, one of the best of Vancouver's architectural photographers. The food shot here has a purpose. Let me explain.
I will be the first person to state that I believe in good journalism. I believe in journalism written by journalists who studied their craft in school. I abhor citizen journalism. I believe that just because anybody can "publish" their opinion on line; it does not necessarily mean that it will be good. It generally isn't. Citizen journalists have ruined many a web-based magazine with their caustic rants. For a taste of that just look at the comments section in the on-line Globe & Mail.
Where this citizen journalism really shows its amateur origins is in the realm of local Vancouver food blogs. If you look at any of the pictures you will be hard-pressed to find one that shows food in an appetizing manner. More often than not the food looks like stuff that is extruded from animals after their digestion. Shooting food is not easy. Shooting food to make it appetizing is not easy. Shooting food with a little or expensive digital camera that is unassisted by intelligent lighting will simply not work.
I had to shoot the food picture you see here for a magazine that insisted that I do it. I took the picture at Monk McQueens in False Creek. For the picture I used a portable boom light stand so that I could suspend a largish soft box over the piano. Had I used an in-camera flash or available light the food would not have looked good.
I think that I can give my opinion on the photographic side. On the writing side I can only assert that most of the food writing in food blogs does nothing for my appetite. Vancouver used to have James Barber but we still have Christina Burridge, Jurgen Gothe, Jamie Maw, Angela Murrils and a few others. Writing about food to make one want to go immediately to partake of it is not easy. A. J. Liebling, between meals, would have plenty to say about that.
It has never been so evident how difficult that is. Just look at the food blogs. I may not be a good judge of the writing side of it but the photographs suck.