FoodView: FORBIDDEN photos

TA 4.17.13
A few months ago, there was an article in The Dining Section of The New York Times, exploring and investigating the rapidly expanding trend and topic of photographing food in restaurants. Helene Stapinski in “Restaurants Turn Camera Shy,” articulates the problem at hand and how restaurants and even other patrons are dealing with the sometimes annoying photographing of food at the table.

With facebook, twitter, instragram and the like occupying the eyes and the minds of people across age lines, this sort of snap and share phenomena has climbed to at times obnoxious heights. These social media outlets are enablers of instant gratification and instant sharing, not with just a few close friends, like those at the physical dinner table, but across followers and intangible web space. Just like taking pictures of outfits or creating text images, taking photos of food has become a cultural standard, and not necessarily an over share.

Some restaurants have come to accept the trend, modifying their service like Chef David Bouley, as Stapinski notes, allows his guests to take photos of their dishes in the kitchen, implying a better photograph. Some places take the middle ground and request no flashes, like the quiet galleries of many museums, so as not to destroy the experience. But some restaurants have taken even more drastic measures; banning photography in general. That is an ultimatum to rid diners of flahes, mini tripods and gadgets, while enjoying a meal. Some owners and chefs see it as distraction and disturbance, while diners (sometimes at the same table) see it as an annoyance.

As Stapinski mentions, there are those who are over the top in photographing dishes or food, as a sense of pride or maybe even a status symbol (read, I went to eat at this famous restaurant look at me).  But then there are also other people, minus the mini folding tripods or fancy flashes, that just care to capture the moment and create a visual souvenir.

And then, there is me. I do not go crazy (most times) uploading photos from my phone to facebook or instagram, but I do take a ton of photos, depending.  I do my best to be as least obnoxious as possible, out of respect of the restaurant and the people I am dining with. And then again, the people who share the table with me, respect me and know what I am doing. Taking photos of food at restaurants is part of what I do, for my blogs and for my career development. Sometimes taking photos of food can feel uncomfortable, depending on the atmosphere, the restaurant, the other people eating there as well as the details of the lighting. Sometimes it is this feeling that makes me limit my photos or amp up stealth mode.

But to ban photographing dishes at restaurants seems to me to be a stretch. It is denying a right for the diner to hold on to the moment through their own perspective and art. They are paying for the experience; the diner, the food, the service, and even the name, so why not be able to bring that home with you in the form of a photo. As long as it is done respectfully and courteously, there is plenty of justification for it.  I can understand that it can be annoying and disruptive, but so can someone talking on the phone in a restaurant or a less than polished staff. I can also understand that chefs could feel that these photos are stealing something, and taking away from the art they tirelessly strived for in presenting their dish and vision. Perhaps the restaurants want their patrons present, in the moment of their food experience, rather than documenting for enjoyment later and separate from the environment created for them.

To me, allowing people to take pictures of dishes, and in turn, by the nature of things, them posting the images online, would serve as excellent advertisement. I am of the opinion that nothing sells food better than a photo. One frame can encapsulate so many elements that chefs are trying to portray to their diners. I often skip over websites or recipes with no pictures of the food, because it leaves too much mystery. A really excellent photo can convey and acquaint the viewer with the many layers of food, from the ingredients to the textures, to the colors and the relationships on the plate. I think that a very large part of dining is the visual and the aesthetic aspect of food and the meal. I essentially think that we eat first with our eyes. The goal of my photos, wherever they are taken, is not only to artistically summarize but also inspire desire for the dish they see before them.

As long as taking pictures in restaurants is done in a classy, minimally disruptive manner, it should be acceptable. The way trends and culture is headed, instant shares and superfluous photos floating on the internet, are not going anywhere. Obviously there are two sides to this argument, what do you think?

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food for thought...