30 May 2009


Photos: "Cookies 'n Milk" dessert at Otom Restaurant, Chicago, December 2008. Chef: Daryl Nash.



Ninety-eighth Annual Meeting of the College Art Association, Chicago, Illiniois, February 10-13, 2010

Session Chair: Dr. Alison Pearlman, Associate Professor of Art History, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, apearlman@csupomona.edu.

While social scientists and culinary historians have long examined the cultures of food production and consumption, only in recent years has interest surged among historians and critics of visual art and design. None too soon! Given the importance of aesthetic considerations to food production and consumption--in food selection, preparation, presentation, dining, food-related media, and food-related architecture, packaging, and graphic design--the contributions of visual studies to this subject matter are well overdue.

For the "Food Aesthetics" session, the Visual Culture Caucus is seeking original, unpublished papers to be presented as 15-20-minute talks. Panelists' papers may explore the social significance of any aspect of the visual and/or spatial aesthetics of food production or consumption of any culture or period. Papers may address such topics as food sourcing and selection, culinary styles, food styling, food imagery (including the infamous "food porn"), the designed spaces of food (restaurants, markets), as well as the aesthetics of performance in dining or food offering.

Submissions are welcome from art, design, and cultural-studies scholars, critics, and journalists; artists and designers; and those in food-related industries. To submit a proposal, please e-mail the session chair with a statement of your interest and expertise in your topic and attach the following documents: your resume or curriculum vitae (including reliable contact information for the summer months) and a maximum-250-word abstract of your proposal that includes and is headed by your name and institutional affiliation. 

Please note that your submission represents a commitment to travel to Chicago to present your paper at the CAA conference if your proposal is accepted. DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS: July 9, 2009.

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01 May 2009


It goes without saying that the burger you order in a restaurant should arrive ready to be eaten. But should it come ready to be photographed, too? With the proliferation of food blogs published by amateur, unannounced, and anonymous restaurant-goers, we may have entered an era when they do.

Consider my photographs from last week's dinner at Umami Burger, a Los-Angeles newcomer to the sophisticated-burger scene. There is nothing special about the photos. I do not have photographic skill. It is the burgers that are extraordinary--albeit in a way easily overlooked because we are used to seeing the effect in question in food-magazine photography. Look again.

Notice the perfectly even sheen on the top bun? From my entire personal history of consuming restaurant hamburgers, I do not recall being presented with a burger so artfully shellacked. Having enjoyed many tasty burgers in my time, including "gourmet" burgers, I conclude that such a feature is unnecessary for taste or as a byproduct of cooking methods.

Of course, I've known shiny streaks and spots and smears--accidental grease. The unintended traces of a fast-moving cook. But at Umami Burger there was such complete coverage, and consistent, too, on every burger carried out of the kitchen. I should mention that the glossiness did not detract from taste. Our burgers did not taste oily, but delectable. So I believe these burgers were deliberately dressed to impress--the eye and the lens, not the taste buds. Put in terms of food porn, our burgers were "fluffed."

More than that, they were prepared to compensate for my unprofessional food photography, my lack of food-stylist help and expertise, and that of all the other food bloggers snapping flashless photos between courses. Our amateur photography cannot be relied upon for public relations to the restaurant's advantage. Perhaps we should see blog-ready food as a tactic in restaurant media defense. Through it, a restaurant can reclaim some of the control over its visual representation that it lost in the proliferation of amateur reportage. 

Copyright 2009 Alison Pearlman. All rights reserved.  

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