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Taking restaurant food photos in France


Abra
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Frankly, I think we're getting a lot of nonsense from the anti-photo people.

Nobody has the right to tell me what happy memories my photos cannot evoke.

When I look at a photo of a dish taken during one of my 36 years of gastronomic travel with my partner, and it causes a total recall of the excitement of that dish, of having discovered that particular restaurant, the conversations we had with the people sitting near us, and our experiences with the chef, how can anybody on a message board tell me that the photo is meaningless.

I'm with the poster who says that if my food photo is meaningless, then by those same standards, your wedding photo, or the photo of your child's graduation is similarly meaningless - photos evoke floods of memories, and nobody's got the right to tell me that because mine is of a plate of food that it doesn't, and because yours is of a group of people that it does.

Now, I've told lengthy stories of having taken flash photos in the fanciest of starred restaurants in France, and having people come over and tell me how wonderful they think it is that I'm passionate enough about my food to want a photo of it. And I've been encouraged by star chefs and their staffs to photograph my food at the table, and then come into the kitchen and take more photos there.

Still, I've worried that for all the people in the restaurant who tell me how wonderful it is, there might be one person whose meal it diminishes, and I've taken great measures to make sure that doesn't happen, which is why I now travel with cameras that don't require a flash.

But I'm not hesitant, or tentative about using them, and I don't apologize for it one bit. What I do at my table is my own business - it's nobody's right at another table to voice an opinion about which hands I hold my silverware in, or how many times I chew my food, or what I do at my table with a camera that doesn't send a flash invading their space - they shouldn't be watching my table at all.

We've got photos of all the food we've eaten in our 36 years of traveling, and no end of stories about discovering the restaurants that serve them, and the chefs that have invited us into their kitchens and homes as a result, that my friends tell me are fascinating, and though I may indeed some day try to turn them into a book at their urging, I don't feel that I need to have this as a goal to justify my photos and the floods of happy memories that they trigger.

If you don't happen to like photos of food, by all means don't take them, and don't look at them when other people post them!

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Host's Note There have now been almost 80 posts on this topic, which threatens to make it more popular than the Ice one. I would remind everyone of the Member Agreement and suggest we note especially:

Decorum

We do not permit ad hominem arguments or personal attacks.

We do not permit comments that we deem abusive, baiting, defamatory, insulting, harassing, inflammatory, hateful, obscene, inappropriately rude or personal, retaliatory, threatening, invasive of privacy or violative of any law.

We encourage a diversity of viewpoints; however once a point has been made the discussion needs to move forward. Excessive repetition and filibustering are not permitted.

I'm not saying anyone has breached these but we may be broaching them.

New, calm points of view on the topic at hand are welcome.

Happy weekend,

John

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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I still don't buy the argument.  You can't get those things from written descriptions, either, so by those standards there's no point in writing about food.  Most of the things you listed are important in regards to people, so then we shouldn't be taking pictures of people, either.

You are right you can't get those things from written descriptions. So why read about food? Not much point really, unless you like trivia. No words written can equal the real thing.

We shouldn't take pictures of people and expect to "understand" all about them. You can't learn that from a picture. You can only look at the two dimensions and guess at the rest.

We take comfort in things that can't talk back to us but real life is infinitely more complex and interesting.

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You'll hear no more from me on this topic, but I will end with this.

The topic was Restaurant food photos - IN FRANCE.

When the French (other than the occasional blogger) start taking pics in restaurants then I guess it will be Ok for guests in their country to do so as well.

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I've eaten at a bunch of 1-3 star restaurants in Paris, I've taken flash and non-flash pictures at every single one, and about 1/2 the time I have a small notepad and I take notes with when there is a particularly interesting dish... Never have I had a single person even say 1 negative thing to me about this...

Quite the contrary, I've had a chance to meet and chat with the head chefs of the restaurant as they come out to chat with me... They are flattered that I want to remember the experience in as much detail as possible... I've even had them autograph the menus for me and take pictures with me (with flash) in the kitchen and other parts of the restaurant...

I once had a chef give me an entire box of special sugar that was infused with lavender because I was complimenting him on the aroma of the sweet dish... I asked him where I could buy such a thing and he said it was 50 euro for a small box and difficult to get but if I left my email he would send me the information to get it, so I gave him my info... When I was leaving the restaurant the maitre'd had a brand new box of the sugar wrapped with a bow and a note from the chef! Very nice touch... I went back to the same restaurant about a year later and presented the chef with a bottle of my favorite champagne... He remembered me and was visibly moved...

If you love food, most chefs will love you in return, as that's what they live for... ESPECIALLY the French... Don't be scared to show your excitement, just do it in a civilized way... :cool:

"Compared to me... you're as helpless as a worm fighting an eagle"

BackwardsHat.com

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So why read about food? Not much point really, unless you like trivia.

That is, with all due respect, a pretty shortsighted remark. Because then you could also ask: why write/read about art? literature? film? music?

I'll give you an answer: to understand it better!

But pictures, in most cases, are taken for a different reason, anyway: we take them as sort of a"souvenir", just as we take a picture of the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State or of a friend while sharing a great time...years later we may browse through them and say "hey, remember...!". Same with great dishes.

Not so hard to understand, is it?

By the way: In germany it is virtually unknown to photograph food.

If you do so (did it once) in a "fining dining" place Iam afraid they won't treat you as an "enthusiastic foodie" but rather as some "now-I-have-dinner-in-a-great-restaurant-for-the-first-and-last-time-in-my-life" kind of person...

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So why read about food? Not much point really, unless you like trivia.

That is, with all due respect, a pretty shortsighted remark. Because then you could also ask: why write/read about art? literature? film? music?

I'll give you an answer: to understand it better!

Reading about or photographing food is quite a bit more "shortsighted" than cooking and experiencing it in real life. One has to peel the vegetables, sear the flesh and actually put the food in one's mouth to totally appreciate the millions of subtle nuances and complexities that accompany the preparation and pleasures of good food.

Photographs and words can only take us so far and are a poor substitute for the real thing.

Imagine if Madame Butterfly could only be explained on paper or photographed in a magazine. Would anyone care about it then?

Do you feel different when you stand in front of a real Van Gogh as compared to a picture in an art book?

Are you more inspired by a critique of a great film than the actual film?

Can anyone describe Shakespeare in such a way that might rival his original masterpieces?

I don't think so.

The genuine article is always preferable to a rendition.

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Photographs and words can only take us so far and are a poor substitute for the real thing.

Was there ever anyone stupid enough to consider them a substitute for the real thing?

Do you think people take food photos to eat them later? :blink:

Indeed!

Nobody, but nobody, was considering them a substitute.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Photographs and words can only take us so far and are a poor substitute for the real thing.

Was there ever anyone stupid enough to consider them a substitute for the real thing?

Do you think people take food photos to eat them later? :blink:

Delicately put Ptipois, thank you.

Of course not, my point is, if you want to really learn about, appreciate and understand food you have to cook, share and eat it. Reading about it and looking at enhanced pictures (although often useful) have some major shortcomings. I know many people that have stacks of food magazines and cookbooks and yet hardly ever venture into the kitchen and get the pots and pans dirty. For these people, the pictures and articles become a substitution for the real thing. Ask yourself how many hours you spend on eGullet and looking at and reading about food in books and magazines and how many do you spend cooking? To be honest, aren't we all a little guilty of this?

What does an computer-enhanced photograph have to do with the flavors, textures and aromas of the original dish? Can one person's review ever accurately and completely sum up a restaurant? How can we ever really judge food by these things? I'm not saying to ignore them, I am saying that you have to consider the motivation behind them.

You can't lie to your tongue, but the eyes and the mind are another story.

Anyway that's just my opinion... snap away! :biggrin:

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Ask yourself how many hours you spend on eGullet and looking at and reading about food in books and magazines and how many do you spend cooking? To be honest, aren't we all a little guilty of this?

I did ask myself, but the answer would not validate your thesis. Though I should normally admire your knowledge of how much time I spend on eGullet and in my kitchen, I am sorry to tell you that your guess is wrong.

I fail to see what there is to be guilty about. Or do you believe that the existence of food photography/food writing is a threat to the material existence of cooking? In other terms, that food photo is occupying a place that should normally be occupied by real food? I find this thought very strange.

With all due respect, I think you are establishing correlations and sets of causes and consequences that simply do not exist.

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Photographs and words can only take us so far and are a poor substitute for the real thing.

Imagine if Madame Butterfly could only be explained on paper or photographed in a magazine. Would anyone care about it then? 

Do you feel different when you stand in front of a real Van Gogh as compared to a picture in an art book?

Are you more inspired by a critique of a great film than the actual film?

Can anyone describe Shakespeare in such a way that might rival his original masterpieces?

I don't think so.

The genuine article is always preferable to a rendition.

So now, with all due respect, I am thoroughly confused.

I was reading the pictorial thread about the restoration of a 300 year old village house in Zanco di Villadeati.

There we see an endless (endless) string of photos showing the exterior and interior of a 300 year building undergoing renovation: the ceiling, the old light fixtures, the bare walls, the stones, the old chairs, the old pipes, the floorplans, the support beams, the pipes, the new light fixtures, the chimney surrounds. the new stones, the countertops, the scales, the new espresso maker, the chimney tubes, the exterior stucco, the views of the surroundings, etc. etc.

But

Photographs and words can only take us so far and are a poor substitute for the real thing.

Imagine if Madame Butterfly could only be explained on paper or photographed in a magazine. Would anyone care about it then? 

Do you feel different when you stand in front of a real Van Gogh as compared to a picture in an art book?

Are you more inspired by a critique of a great film than the actual film?

Can anyone describe Shakespeare in such a way that might rival his original masterpieces?

I don't think so.

The genuine article is always preferable to a rendition.

So why are we being shown these things?

Can a photograph substitute for us being flown there to experience the real thing with you?

Is it any different to see photos of it than to be invited there and witness the transformation in person?

If we only read about it on paper and see photos of it, can we possibly care about it then?

Or is it the case that when it's photos you took of something that you care about, or want for a documentation or a remembrance, that it's the most wonderful thing in the world, and when it's photos of things that other people took for the documentation or remembrance of something that they care about, it's meaningless, pointless, and useless?

Why is it the case that if you want a photo album of every nail and every inch of tubing that went into your house, it's valid, and if somebody else wants a photo album of every dinner they ate on their vacation, it's stupid. Is this all about what matters to you?

This was in no way intended to be a personal attack; I was just noticing the hundreds of photos that you posted, and wondering if your own postulations about the meaninglessness of photos only applied to those that others have taken?

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Host's Note

Recall that the topic is entitled "Restaurant food photos,"

I'm highly in favor of them. When they're my own photos, they are wonderful souvenirs of meals I have enjoyed in my travels. When they're somebody else's photos, they're the next best thing to (the metaphysically impossible) going back in time and place and enjoying the meal with them. And to top it off, my own experiences taking food photos in restaurants have led to lasting friendships with chefs and fellow diners. So on all counts, I am in favor of them!

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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So now, with all due respect, I am thoroughly confused.

I was reading the pictorial thread about the restoration of a 300 year old village house in Zanco di Villadeati.

There we see an endless (endless) string of photos showing the exterior and interior of a 300 year building undergoing renovation: the ceiling, the old light fixtures, the bare walls, the stones, the old chairs, the old pipes, the floorplans, the support beams, the pipes, the new light fixtures, the chimney surrounds. the new stones, the countertops, the scales, the new espresso maker, the chimney tubes, the exterior stucco, the views of the surroundings, etc. etc.

But

Photographs and words can only take us so far and are a poor substitute for the real thing.

Imagine if Madame Butterfly could only be explained on paper or photographed in a magazine. Would anyone care about it then? 

Do you feel different when you stand in front of a real Van Gogh as compared to a picture in an art book?

Are you more inspired by a critique of a great film than the actual film?

Can anyone describe Shakespeare in such a way that might rival his original masterpieces?

I don't think so.

The genuine article is always preferable to a rendition.

So why are we being shown these things?

Can a photograph substitute for us being flown there to experience the real thing with you?

Is it any different to see photos of it than to be invited there and witness the transformation in person?

If we only read about it on paper and see photos of it, can we possibly care about it then?

Or is it the case that when it's photos you took of something that you care about, or want for a documentation or a remembrance, that it's the most wonderful thing in the world, and when it's photos of things that other people took for the documentation or remembrance of something that they care about, it's meaningless, pointless, and useless?

Why is it the case that if you want a photo album of every nail and every inch of tubing that went into your house, it's valid, and if somebody else wants a photo album of every dinner they ate on their vacation, it's stupid. Is this all about what matters to you?

This was in no way intended to be a personal attack; I was just noticing the hundreds of photos that you posted, and wondering if your own postulations about the meaninglessness of photos only applied to those that others have taken?

I couldn't agree more. My pictures are endless and tedious. It was done as a documentary and it does not at all give you a feel for what my little house is really like. The pictures are by nature deceptive and I am disappointed that I have not been able to capture the essence of the project. The same is true of all my blogging and my eGullet posts. I totally understand why people write about and photograph food and I don't begrudge them that.

The problem is I love food and so it is a pleasure for me to write about and photograph it but the limits of words and photos frustrate me as a medium and so I prefer to cook.

Back to the original question: I have photographed food in restaurants (even without asking) I was once almost thrown out of Fauchon in Paris for filming with a video camera and I have also had my food photographed by customers in the restaurants that I have worked. It is just a fact of life, people want a memento.

But I find that if I stop, smell and study a great plating I carry a fonder and clearer memory of it than a photo can capture.

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Mesdames et Messieurs, Ladies and Gentlemen. As the originator of the thread, let me express my amazement at how controversial this has become. And let me say that YES, photos are a substitute for experience!

If I can't have the experience myself, because I can't get to that restaurant myself, I'd much rather have your photos with your words. Most people don't write as well as they should, and so the photo conveys a lot of additional information. I'd love to visit all the places where all of you are eating, but life is too short. Therefore, thanks to those who enrich my life with their photos of beautiful food!

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As a chef, having my food photographed without my knowing is like having someone snap a picture of me out of the blue. Was my hair combed? Did I look stupid? Was I holding my belly in? It is just something you like to be a little prepared for because the result may be misleading. Honestly I think it is asking a lot from the chef.

Using a tiny camera or doing it without a flash is simply being covert. It does not change anything, except perhaps that it is less disruptive to the other customers.

A good idea would be if some one said: "Hey your food looks fantastic, when can we setup a professional photo shoot"

If you are only gathering souvenirs then tell them and hopefully they will believe you. If not, look closely, sniff, taste and remember. That works too.

What would flatter me the most would be if you photograph the kitchen in full sail. A good kitchen is like an operating theater in a hospital and for many chefs it is where all the adrenaline comes from. Here you will take great pictures.

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  • 1 month later...

From the topic on Montmartre, a note.

Perhaps they've finally understood that pictures = free online publicity = people actually coming to their restaurant? :)

Clotilde.

I could not have put it better. Why would any chef not want the publicity, especially from you? If you believe Francois Simon, bloggers are increasingly becoming more influential than print journalists, at least in the food realm. Their/your opinions count! (I know from personal experience that most of the Parisian chefs or their “Laura’s du Web” “Google” themselves and watch the net/toile carefully and know that all of us who post regularly are read/paid attention to.)

I recently went through the Rembrandt show at the Met (NYC) and an art critic I recognized was taking pix with his mobile of every third painting and as opposed to 30 or 20 or 10 or even 1 year ago, no guard/custodian even batted an eye.

What was it that Bob Dylan sang "The times they are........"?

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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François Simon's latest novel had a "food spy" taking starred chefs recipes and turning them into products to make agro-alimentary companies fortunes ...

Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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François Simon's latest novel had a "food spy" taking starred chefs recipes and turning them into products to make agro-alimentary companies fortunes ...

fresh_a:

Good to have you back. Can you give us a link/reference/etc, is he a good or bad guy in this and can you reference the book preferably at amazon.com or amazon.fr so the Society may get a (teeny-tiny) cut?

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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(I know from personal experience that most of the Parisian chefs or their “Laura’s du Web” “Google” themselves and watch the net/toile carefully and know that all of us who post regularly are read/paid attention to.)

Agreed. And when they don't, clients do and talk to them about it (it happened to me with l'Astrance for example.

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It's a girl. Interesting but flawed novel called Toscane(s). Already seen it here somewhere..

Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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F.S. mentionned by blog in the Figaro. He's a damned visionary if he can see any merit in it!

Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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