Saturday September 8, 2012
Click first, then eat
By S. INDRAMALAR
These days, you can’t gobble a meal without first honouring the grub with a photo or three, can you?
ANYONE who knows Karina Lee is well aware of the ritual she performs at the start of every meal.
Whether at home or at a restaurant, no matter if it’s breakfast, lunch, tea or dinner – when food arrives at the table, the first thing Lee does is size up the spread before her. Then, she reaches into her bag and whips out her iPhone.
She snaps a picture of every dish on the table (even those that aren’t for her; sometimes even the sauce bottles). She then moves the plates around and rearranges the components on each plate for a more composed shot ... and then, she shoots some more. The whole process doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes – five at the most – during which time her fellow diners wait patiently till she’s done.
“They’re used to me,” says Lee, 35. “I’ve been photographing practically everything I eat for the past year.”
Lee isn’t a chef or a food blogger. She just really loves food and wants to record every (good) meal she has.
“I don’t just love how good food tastes; I love how food looks on a plate, whether it’s a plate of char kway teow with succulent prawns and almost crispy bean sprouts from a roadside hawker or a plate of glossy pasta at a swanky restaurant,” she explains. “If there was a way to record the smell of food, I’d be on it.”
You may have spotted Lee (who eats out at least five nights a week) while dining at restaurants. Or maybe not, for Lee would be lost in a crowd of many who have taken to sharing their food experiences with the world photographically. Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest are all awash with photos of food. New mobile apps like Instagram, Foursquare and Evernote make it possible for everyone (with a smartphone) to be a food photographer.
According to a survey by digital marketing agency 360i, at least once a month, about 52% of mobile phone users take photos of food with their phones, 19% of which end up on the web. People are almost never in the pictures; brands are also rarely mentioned. The photos are all just about the food.
Popular food photography sites like Foodgawker (foodgawker.com), Tastespotting (tastespotting.com) have close to 200,000 photos of food on display, submitted by food bloggers around the world. Getting a photo on these sites isn’t easy: photographs have to meet requirements (good composition and lighting are integral) and the bloggers have to be credible.
Food enthusiast Jenifer Kuah says she takes photos as a way to record memories.
“A lot of my memories revolve around food, even as a child. A lot of my life experiences are associated with food, both good and bad. I can remember distinctly the ambience, the conversation, the emotions of an experience just from the visual of food.”
Kuah’s love of food has translated into something concrete: she is co-owner of Food Foundry. It’s an eatery located in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, that has became famous for its mille crepe cakes.
Kuah shares her food photos – “only food that is tasty and worth the memory space” – with her friends via Facebook
“I think (these photos) have helped rekindle friendships and allowed my friends to get to know me better. They also brought me closer to other closet foodie friends. We discovered something in common,” she says.
She has a group of friends who share photos and stories of food via WhatsApp, a mobile messaging application.
“We share new (eating) spots and new flavours. It’s all very exciting.”
For inspiration, Kuah also visits food sites like Foodgawker, Serious Eats (seriouseats.com), food blogs and photo-sharing website Pinterest daily.
“I think the way we view food and its role in our lives has completely changed. The food we eat mirrors the way we live. Food brings people together. It’s about being with people you love, eating the food we love ... it transcends the mere act of eating.
“Food photos also encourage people to try new tastes and new foods and we are able to discover and understand other cultures,” says Kuah, 40.
Engineer Zainal Amar Zainal Abidin started photographing food when he was a student abroad as a means of keeping track of what he was eating and experiencing.
“It was a journal of sorts. When I went overseas to study, I started to take pictures of food. It was more for the ideas. How food was plated, for example, and also to note down the unique dishes and ingredients I was eating. I also started cooking more and photographing the dishes,” says the 28-year-old.
On top of being a “consummate foodie”, Zainal confesses to being quite the photography enthusiast. He visits food blogs and photography sites to learn not only recipes but new techniques for photographing food.
“I visit these sites for ideas ... whether a completely new dish or a twist on a classic,” he says. He often visits Foodgawker, Tastespotting, SpoonForkBacon (spoonforkbacon.com) and Luxirare (luxirare.com).
American-based graphic designers Subashini Nadarajah and her best friend Michael Ong both post photos of food.
“I think the main reason I do it is to share my love for food and my experiences of a good meal. I think if I can help at least one person expand their palate or experience of a good meal. I think if I can help at least one person expand their palate experience through my photos ... that would be so gratifying,” says Suba who is part of Foodspotting, an international group of food lovers who discover and then share online new places to eat with the rest of the world.
Adds Ong: “I feel that sharing my food pictures is like sharing a meal with my friends. Some people think it’s rude to take pictures, especially at a nice restaurant. I think the art of photo-taking is to be discreet and not draw attention to the action.
“However, some of us take pride in it and are leading the trend to make it a social norm. I think it is more acceptable now than a few years ago. My family and friends seem to know the ‘drill’ now that no one is supposed to touch the food until I shoot the plate.”
Both Suba and Ong work at Hallmark Cards Incorporated – she is the art director in visual merchandising while he is the multimedia studio manager.
Apart from sharing, Suba admits that she bought into the trend because, well, it’s kinda nice to show off to people the great food you’ve had the pleasure of eating!
“Its a huge trend ... photographing and blogging about what you’ve eaten. It’s kinda like showing off! And anyway, I like taking photos,” says the 40-something. Her favourite sites include What Katie Ate (whatkatieate.blogspot.com) and Sunday Suppers (sunday-suppers.com).
While he is in full support of the trend, Ong, 44, says he is mindful to only post pictures that are aesthetically pleasing.
“I think one of the aspects on the culinary art is the appearance. One should only share food pictures if it looks enticing. Just like how one would only share one’s food if it tastes good.”