Friday, February 27, 2009

Hey Man Nice Shot

So only about a couple weeks into this endeavor, and I already find myself at a crossroads. To shoot or not to shoot? Every red-blooded eater loves them some food porn. I'll readily admit that among my favorite things about many of the blogs I follow are the pictures. And next week I'm off to Spain, the culinary equivalent of ... well, let's not play out the porn analogy any further.

And yet - there is a part of me that really wants to avoid becoming "that douchebag taking pictures of his food." It can annoy other diners. It can annoy chefs and other restaurant staff. Sometimes, there seems to be something of a self-righteous sense of entitlement that because you've mastered the rudiments of WordPress or TypePad or flickr, every restaurant should bend over backwards to let you snap away.* Somehow, nobody ever thinks they're "that guy" but rather they're all models of discretion and subtlety in their photojournalistic stylings.

Besides, it is no false modesty to say I have no photographic or general artistic skills whatsoever. I am capable of operating the most rudimentary functions of a point-n-click camera, but that's really about it. The results are rarely much to look at. Even were I to try to take some good food pix, the product would likely be amateurish at best and embarassing at worst (again, the porn analogy comes to mind).

But perhaps even more importantly, I'm concerned with the potential dissociative effect - the loss of the opportunity to actually experience, rather than merely critically observe and document, a meal. When a dish is brought out to me, I don't want my first reaction to be "Is the lighting right?" Despite my interest in chronicling great meals, I've always found it fairly easy to write something later by merely paying attention, sometimes taking a couple notes, and saving menus. A good meal usually provides both a visceral, hedonistic satisfaction and an intellectual satisfaction as well, though the weight of each type of reward varies considerably depending on the type of meal. I'm concerned that the addition of a camera into the equation has the potential to screw up that balance.

David Chang, who got some flak for banning photogrpahy at Momofuku Ko, said, "It's just food. Eat it." (There's some interesting comments from several other chefs and others in the same article.) Though I'm not sure it's quite that simple, I understand the sentiment.

Our lineup for Spain includes Viridiana and Goizeko Wellington (or possibly Kabuki Wellington, we'll see) in Madrid, Arzak, Akelare, and lots of pintxos in San Sebastian, and Dos Palillos (new restaurant from Albert Raurich, former El Bulli chef de cuisine) in Barcelona. Would I love to come back with hundreds of beautiful pictures of fantastic food? Sure. Will I do it? We'll see.

*This is not any sort of general knock on the site linked to, which I often find is a very good read.


  1. Spain! You lucky SOB! I'm extremely jealous. Can I come along as a translator?

    Seems like you've got a Basque restaurant in the mix for Madrid and it seems like your going to the Basque Country anyway so maybe dropping Goizeko for something more Madrileno?

    As for pics, if you do come back with one, take a picture inside one of the Museos de Jamon locations in Madrid. Kitsch and wonderful at the same time.

    Buen viaje!

  2. I think the photo taking is some form of douchebaggery. This is why I like the iPhone. Its pretty discrete for food porn.

  3. As soon as the "FFT" budget will support a photographer and translator (and my John Thain-like salary and perks), you're both hired.

    L2M - there's an explanation for the restaurant choices, but do you have suggestions?

  4. Taking photos in restaurants may be a form of douchebaggery, but it can certainly serve a purpose. For me, I take notes and photos wherever I go, restaurant or otherwise, and I can tell you that the photos are usually at least recognizable (as opposed to my scrawl). Sometimes I ask if it's ok to take pictures, but sometimes I do not for fear the answer will be no and I'll be forced to remember stuff. In Europe (and in NYC and Miami), tourists (and other assorted geeks) taking photos is part of the charm. Unless you are a blogger. Then you are just a douche. And I agree with Museo de Jamon-but I also love the McDonalds in the Plaza because they serve beer there and everyone's stoned. Bring the kids!

  5. Did you catch Bourdain in Spain on No Reservations? I think it's still running

  6. DB - kids are staying home, this is a real vacation. El Bulli doesn't open 2009 until June even if I could score a reservation.

    Chowfather - yes, saw the recent Spain episode. Also regularly watch Jose Andres' "Made in Spain" show. However, I just can't sit through "Spain ... On the Road" unless Claudia Bassols is on-screen (and Bittman preferably off). That show would be vastly improved just by editing it down to :30 instead of an hour.

  7. Yes, Claudia Bassols is a total smoke show and pretty much the only reason I made it thru that program. Really cant stand Batali though. I dont know why but he just comes off as the biggest douche to me.

  8. BM-Yeah what happened to him? But Batali's not even the biggest douche on that show-Bittman is. In fact, if you got rid of those two and just put Gwyneth and Claudia in a convertible driving thru Spain, THAT would be a show I would watch. Watching them getting tipsy and putting food into their mouths and getting spa treatments would be a lot more pleasing than watching two old bald guys stuffing their faces.

  9. At least Bittman is an idiot and cracks bad jokes. Batali is just a douche, plain and simple. The way he pronounces words like, "a la plancha" is almost as annoying as his incredibly gay orange clogs. I will say though that I have been to one of his restaurants and the food was pretty effin good. Credit where credit is due...

  10. As a pro magazine shooter and amateur foodie, my take is that shooting the food is lame and not only takes away from your experience, but occasionally from other's at neighboring tables as well. On top of that, shooting food well is hard and takes a shit load more effort than a quick snap at the table, so what you end up with is not even that evocative of what you were actually presented.

    To me this question resonates beyond into the role of photography in travel at large. As someone whose been hired to travel to some glamourous places, its amazing how the photography is very rarely given the chance to be truly connected to a personal experience of a place. Snapshots, even well composed and lit ones, of people eating and shopping and strolling don't teach you anything, usually, about what it means to be somewhere new, which is really what travel is all about to many of the photographers who earn their living shooting travel photography... yet another strange paradox.

  11. John - I hear you. There was a good posting here on Steamy Kitchen about taking half an hour getting the "money shot" for a pizza.

    As an amateur "foodie" and absolute hack photographer (to say nothing of a man married to a woman who sensibly has little patience for such things), such steps were clearly out of my range. I did take pix at a few restaurants we visited (of the "quick snap" variety) and didn't particularly enjoy doing so for all the reasons I anticipated.

    Yet ... I do enjoy having visual records of those meals, as amateurish as they may be, and I think I'll enjoy sharing them and getting shit for how awful they are.

  12. I think you took the right path, David -- basically pulled out the camera when it seemed appropriate or especially personally important, and otherwise just enjoyed your amazing trip to Spain. I certainly enjoyed seeing your quick snaps of that amazing tapas in SS, so my argument is flawed by that as well.

    Really enjoying the blog - the first trip to 3030 Ocean was well worth it. We did the chef's selection, had several good courses (though their sweetbread was really overcooked on the salad course) and some great wine (we sprang for a few bottles of the WIllakenzie which we know and love). All in all a very good meal, though 3030 is not endangering my love for our shared favorites further south.