From Ansel Adams to Stephen Shore: famous photographers shoot their favourite food
After 40 years, a cookbook by some of Americas best-loved photographers is being published for the first time
Perhaps the salient thing about food, from a photographers point of view, is that it doesnt last. Even the most gorgeous, curvaceous pepper those shot by Edward Weston in 1930 are among the cameras greatest still lifes must either be chopped up and feed, or rot.
Back in 1977, Deborah Barsel, a bored employee at George Eastman House in New York, home to the USs finest photography collection, had the idea of asking artists to contribute food-related paintings and recipes to a cookery book. Nearly 40 years on, the project has been brought to fruition after a box of letters and paintings from the likes of surrealist legend Brassa and William Eggleston, who captured the US south, was discovered in a store room.
Its a great idea whose hour has come. Quality cookbooks in 1977 were more likely to be illustrated with sensitive line drawings such as John Mintons for Elizabeth Davids classics on southern European food. Today, photography and cookery are inseparable. I recently went to a restaurant whose lavishly photographed recipe volume I own. It was a chance to order dishes whose paintings I have been looking at for years, including ones that are too fussy to cook at home. Damn , no cod cheeks in the refrigerator! So I ordered the cod cheek and, yes, they were as good as their photograph.
Now, when I look at the picture, Ill recollect the savor, the time, the fun. Foods impermanence builds it the stuff of richly associative memories such as these. I wish I had been at the New York restaurant where Stephen Shore photographed the aftermath of a snack in 1972. It must have been a good one. Black coffee, and a cigar. The sharp colouring tell of a meeting, a conversation, perhaps business, perhaps love: all the social stuff of city lunches. Or was he feeing alone?
Real character in photography comes from a precise, rich participation with the suggestiveness of the physical world. That cigar in Shores ashtray, the cherry garnish on a Neal Slavin hotdog. Egglestons cheese grits casserole, employing half a pound of Velveeta cheese, sits alongside his 1976 photo of an empty diner, whose bright yellow walls evoked the cheese he likes to melt all over his down home food.
As with most of the contributors, Eggleston shares a fondness for ingredients that are now practically illegal on health grounds: this is the 1970 s, and the dishes are steeped in the saturates of the time graham crackers, frozen macaroni cheese. This is a cookbook to look at rather than use, if you value your arteries.
Food is not a fetishistic preoccupation for great photographers, it seems, so much as a movable feast, a theatrical moment in the midst of everyday life. Eileen Cowins vegetable cheese casserole is merely lots of veg baked in ricotta: fast and easy, to suit the chaotic lifestyle portrayed in her shoot of a kid watching TV from the same table as a couple trying to have a candlelit dinner( pictured overleaf ).
Photography is the art of modern lifes flux; the moments that induce the best paintings may not be food on a plate so much as pots in a sink, people at a counter, coffee on a stove. Above all, food is social: in Barbara Cranes rawly coloured snapshot of people passing slicings of pizza at a party, the sharing is what its all about.
When this lovely project was launched, photography was at a crossroads: modernist masters such as Ansel Adams were still composing pictures of great formal beauty while younger photographers were recording more random scenes. Artists such as Ed Ruscha were exploring the cameras power as a conceptual tool. These paintings allow us to savour a great moment, melting in the mouth like Velveeta cheese.
Pavlova : Grant Mudford
There are many things from Australia I recollect with great affection, partly due to their absence elsewhere in the world. I truly miss: old Holdens( vehicles ), gladioli( flowers ), jamborees and kookaburras( birds ), Ayers Rock( natural monument) and the bush( outback country ). Australian cuisine on the whole is forgettable, with one notable exception: the pav! Its named after the Russian dancer Anna Pavlova, who in 1926 performed Swan Lake in Australia. Description: a soft, marshmallow-centered dessert with crisp, gently browned meringue crust, topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit.
Egg whites use at the least 8
2 rounded tbsp sugar per egg white
1 fell of vinegar per egg white
Heat the oven to 150 C/ 300 F/ gas mark 2. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Add the sugar gradually while beating; add vinegar. Cover an oven tray with greased paper. Spread the mix out in a disc( nine or 10 inches in diameter ), put in the oven, and turn down the hot to 110 C/ 225 F/ gas mark. Bake for one and a half hours.
Add toppings just before serve: whipped cream, strawberries, pineapple, cherries, kiwi and other fresh fruit.
Based in LA, Mudford is best known for his work with the architect Louis Kahn.