I’d like to direct you to McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, where there is another installment of one of my favorite features, Open Letters To People Or Entities Who Are Unlikely To Respond.
The most recent Open Letter, Dear People Who Take Pictures Of Food With Instagram, is a hilarious, cringe-inducing commentary on many things I love: food, hipsters, and social media. It will only take a quick glance before you chuckle because you know exactly what the author is talking about, and you may even recognize yourself in her pointed description of the “Instagram Visionary.” It’s a wry takedown of the “everyone’s a food critic” phenomenon, something I used to loathe but have come to love.
There seem to be two camps when it comes to the people who think about food photos. There are those who ask that familiar question about food blogging, “Who wants to see a picture of your lunch? Who cares what you had for breakfast?” and there are those who answer earnestly, “I do! Want to see mine?”
Obviously these people are not on the same page.
I used to belong to the former crowd. As a kid, I read the dining section of the newspaper with some horror, thinking “You can’t bring a camera into a restaurant. How rude. They’ll know you’re a critic. You’re blowing your cover!” That was before food bloggers let their meals get cold while angling for the perfect shot, and definitely before the iPhone made its way to the table. With that gadget, the sanctity of the communal meal was destroyed forever. Or so I felt–all the arranging of dishes, snapping, deleting and re-snapping of photos and the inevitable “share with friends” who weren’t at the table instead of those who were was distracting and so gauche. My poor father put up with a lot of scolding in those days. Like Katie from the McSweeney’s essay, I just rolled my eyes at the food paparazzi.
Until I became one of them. It was my food blog obsession that did it, of course. I started reading, then cooking, then trying to document my dinner, and one thing led to another and now I’m working on social media for Leite’s Culinaria. My exposure (heh–you follow me, photo nerds?) to the wonders and pleasures of Instagram has increased hugely, and I’m all for it. I do want to know what and where you’re eating, because chances are I want to eat it too, and without your photo record I would forget about it. Checking out Instagram photos of your friends’ meals feels like a politer version of sneaking bites off someone’s plate, albeit less satisfying. And if you’re subtle, tactful, and appreciative of your food, all the better.
Of course, I still recognize the silliness of it. I hadn’t actually tried Instagram for myself until this evening. I’m working on a special project that should make an appearance here by Sunday if all goes well, and some photographic evidence was key. I don’t have the stillness of hand nor financial stability required to feel confident using a fancy camera around food, so the iPhone it was. What a corner I have turned.
This endeavor shed new light on the particular trials of intro food photography, and now I see why we social media people look absurd to some of you. I also forgive anyone who ever made me wait to eat with their endless plating and arranging. I get it now. One minute you’re peering through the lens trying to see if the camera is even on, and the next you’re obsessed, awkwardly clambering onto the stove in order to get a good shot. Lighting? Please. Now I understand why the pros insist that natural light is best. You will notice that I took my efforts outside to practice on a beer, and produced a photo that was cut off, out of focus, weirdly shadowed, and off-center. Those were not artistic choices.
But I’m sharing the shot anyway, just in case you were jonesin’ for a new beer suggestion (and let’s be real, it might encourage me to practice). And to the Instagrammers: I want to see your lunches. Be shameless. Snap away.