Aya Brackett on Martin Parr and Food Photography as Anthropology

Food photographs can do more than show viewers what a finished recipe should look like. They can also convey information about who is making, selling and eating a meal. In our story “Forward-Thinking Food Photographers,” Aya Brackett explains how her upbringing in a family of people who are “really into cooking” has inspired her food photography. Food, she says, is “tied to culture and customs and routines in most people’s daily lives.” In her work, Brackett takes an interest in “the stories that are connected to food,” she says. Her ongoing personal series, “Comfort Food,” is a case in point. In it, she depicts the food that holds personal significance for her subjects. The images are portraits of her subjects “through the food,” she explains.

Brackett cites British photographer Martin Parr’s work as an example of storytelling through food that has influenced her. Throughout his career, Parr has photographed food as a way to understand—and poke fun at—the values and sensibilities of people all over the world.

“I find his work so inspiring because his images speak of the larger culture beyond the frame and allow us to laugh at ourselves,” Brackett explains. “His work feels candid and authentic, and his interest in people’s daily lives and specifically their eating habits is endlessly fascinating.”

As the title of his 2016 book, Real Food (Phaidon), suggests, Parr has been more interested in everyday foodstuffs than haute cuisine, making snapshots of dishes—pastries, fried foods, all manner of sausages—that would make a nutritionist cringe. Parr also has a keen eye for colorful tablecloths, napkins and other patterned backdrops that add to his compositions. “His work contains a wonderful mix of unapologetic anthropological documentation and bright, graphic color,” Brackett says.

She also appreciates that Parr is able to convey a sense of…

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