“Comedian,” aka the Art Basel Banana, not part of the current exhibit
“Comedian,” aka the Art Basel Banana, not part of the current exhibit
Photo: Cindy Ord (Getty Images)

It’s hard to believe, but back in the day, pictures of food weren’t always meant to kindle envy in the hearts of family and friends and influencees. Sometimes food photos were kind of gross, either intentionally (in the hands of artists) or unintentionally (in the hands of art directors for advertising cookbooks).

Now an exhibit called “Feast for the Eyes: The Story of Food in Photography” will be opening at the Photographer’s Gallery in London to track that history, going all the way back to the 1860s. It contains work by Nobuyoshi Araki, Nan Goldin, Martin Parr, Man Ray, Cindy Sherman, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Weegee, as well as the unfamous people who designed all those ad campaigns.

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Food was a popular subject back in photography’s early days because it didn’t move during the long, long exposure time. “Pioneers like William Henry Talbot and Roger Fenton found long-suffering subjects in table grapes and pineapples,” Laura Mallonee writes in a piece in Wired about the exhibition. “The black-and-white images aped elaborate still life paintings, including their moral and religious symbolism—a shiny apple could represent Eve’s fall, for instance, or a fuzzy peach could suggest fertility. ‘It was a really easy way to say, “Look, photography is art,”’ [curator Susan] Bright says.”

In the age of Instagram, though, the meaning of photography has changed a bit, at least according to Bright. “It’s about them [the photographers],” she said. “It’s absolutely about identity, whether that’s personal, cultural, or political.”

Wired has provided a collection of the photos for you to look at, however you want.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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