What’s wrong with this picture?
Technical issues aside, the problem is with the content: every bit of food depicted in this scene ended up in the rubbish bin after the photo-shoot had ended. It was not edible.
Recently I spent about an hour on a Sunday roasting capsicums (peppers) and making a spicy marinade, intending to blog the recipe. It was late in the afternoon and by the time I had completed the dish the natural light had faded. I resolved to snap some photos the next morning before work, but I ended up running out of time. I returned home that night to find the capsicums sitting on the bench; a casualty of an early morning dash to extract the lunchbox situated behind the hapless capsicums in the fridge.
My carefully prepared dish had sat out for a whole day and it was now inedible. As is typical of my current obsession, my real pain was not for the wasted food, but for the missed photo opportunity. I resolved to reserve the capsicums in the fridge until Friday when I had a day off. I would see then, if the capsicums had survived long enough for me to take an acceptable photo of the plated up dish. Yes that’s right. I deliberately planned to photograph an inedible dish and pass it off to the world as food.
Come Friday, I prepared to assemble the dish: a simple affair of wholegrain toast and feta with the capsicums draped across (my favourite way to eat the, usually fresh, capsicums). However, by Friday the fridge was pretty bare. The bread was beginning to moulder and the feta had tipped from tangy to stinky. To be frank, I barely hesitated – it’s not like I was going to eat it anyway. I picked off the mould and toasted the bread. I held my nose and spread the feta on the toast. I fished out pieces of capsicum without looking at them too closely and laid them over the cheese.
Wanting to depict a cheerful, breakfasty scene, I made coffee to include in the shot, but one whiff of the milk told me that it too was off. I substituted almond milk, only to watch it curdle as it hit the hot liquid. Feeling decidedly unlucky, I abandoned the coffee and fished out a dusty peppermint tea bag to use instead. After a few shots I felt like the scene needed more colour so I added the mandarin, positioned just so, to ensure that a spot of watery rot was obscured from view.
This isn’t about tattering my own reputation for hygiene (which I’ve done rather thoroughly). The point is that this exercise in artifice got me thinking about food blogging and the essential role of the food photo in food posts. We eat with our eyes, in fact there is no other way online, but many of the beautifully styled food photos that make dishes look incredible bear no relation to the food production and consumption that happens in my everyday life. Just where is the evidence that the dish was indeed delicious (let alone edible), as food bloggers claim? Forget mason jars, tree branches and other romanticising props, maybe we should only trust photos where it is clear that the food has been demolished, like the empty bowls scraped clean in this shot perhaps? Such images may not go viral on Pinterest but there’s an honesty about them, isn’t there (or is there)?
At the end of the day, a digital image is a representation of an unknowable truth that I want you to believe in. I want you to make the recipe I share, so I do my best to make it look and sound good. The actor Cesar Romano is credited with the quote: “They say the camera never lies. It lies everyday”, and I like the dialectic of this idea. Some highly respected food bloggers lie very well and it’s quite clear that you can’t trust me. The proof can only be in the eating of the pudding.
As it happened, I was unhappy with the first set of photos, so a couple of weeks later I re-made the dish and photographed it again. This time I ate it afterwards. I did. Honestly.
Roasted Marinated Capsicums
4 large red and/or yellow capsicums (peppers)
1 large clove garlic
2 small chillies, or to taste
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Roast the capsicums until they are blackened all over and beginning to collapse. I used to do this under the grill in the oven, but lately I’ve been using the barbeque grill plate, turning them regularly to ensure they blacken evenly. Once ready, place the capsicums in a bowl and cover with a plate. The heat will continue to steam the skin from the flesh of the peppers.
While the peppers are steaming, prepare the marinade. Finely chop the garlic and chillies and add to a bowl. Lightly crush the coriander seeds using a mortar and pestle, just enough to crack the seeds open and release their scent. Add these to the bowl along with the oil and vinegar. Mix and season to taste.
After a few minutes, or when the capsicums are cool enough to handle, peel off the blacked skin and remove the seeds. Tear each pepper into several strips and add to the marinade. Stir well to coat evenly. The peppers can be eaten immediately, although I prefer to cover and chill them to eat the next day when the flavours have melded and the garlic has softened. They taste great on toasted bread with feta and they are also excellent with hard boiled eggs and avocado.