Getty Museum Presents Exhibition of Still Life Photography In Focus: Tasteful Pictures

The J. Paul Getty Museum presents In Focus: Still Life, a survey of some of the innovative ways photographers have explored and refreshed this traditional genre, on view at the Getty Center in the Center for Photographs.

Marian Drew (Australian, born 1960), Lorikeet with Green Cloth, 2006. Digital pigment print. Image: 71.8 x 89.5 cm (28 1/4 x 35 1/4 in.) Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles © Marian Drew, 2009.44

Photographers have been enticed by the subject of food since the earliest years of the medium. Drawn entirely from the permanent collection, the works in this exhibition provide an overview of the Getty Museum’s world-renowned collection of photographs through the subject of food. The images span a period of 150 years, from the mid-19th century until today. The exhibition features both masterpieces and lesser known works. Among the photographers featured are Roger Fenton, Adolphe Braun, Edward Weston, Bill Owens, Martin Parr, and Taryn Simon. Several works are recent acquisitions, on view for the very first time.

“This exhibition contains a wide variety of images that showcase both appealing and not-so-appealing aspects of food,” said Virginia Heckert, associate curator, Department of Photographs, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and curator of the exhibition. “The title ‘Tasteful Pictures’ refers both to the subject of food and aesthetic preferences, particularly how the latter may have shifted over time.”

Among the selection of works in the exhibition is William Eggleston’s captivating photograph Memphis (1971), which frames a white-frosted square of freezer haphazardly stocked with a jumble of “tasty” frozen food items. The inclusion of ice-encrusted walls and adjectives announcing “artificially flavored” transforms the promise of plentiful choice into the compromise of convenience. Eggleston adopted a casual, snapshot-like style when focusing his 35mm camera on ordinary, even banal, objects and situations, demonstrating that compelling compositions could be created from the least attractive of subjects.

For Cuisine (Kitchen), Man Ray utilized the cameraless photogram process to animate his image of a roasted chicken on a bed of rice. The coiled spring he placed atop a sheet of photographic paper while exposing the print creates a spiral that suggests both an oven heating element and a world modernized by electricity. Commissioned by a utility company in Paris in 1931, the image was intended to promote domestic uses of electricity.

On view for the first time since it entered the Getty’s collection in 1999, is Floris Neusüss’ Supper with Heinecken (1983), a large-scale photogram that depicts the progress of a dinner party with exposures at the beginning and end of a meal that was enjoyed over the course of several hours in a room lit only with a darkroom safelight. Shadowy images of dinnerware, cutlery, wine bottles and glasses, spaghetti, grapes, eggs, a loaf of bread, and a corkscrew can be seen, as well as residue created by foods and liquids spilling onto the paper that was then developed and fixed.

Other selections from In Focus: Tasteful Pictures include American photographer Weegee’s Bagels, Second Avenue (1940), which depicts a New York baker rushing freshly made bagels to a restaurant in the dark predawn hours, and a group of 24 untitled images from Martin Parr’s arresting British Food series (1995), among them a half-eaten plate of food, fork, and knife resting casually on the plate, as if in mid-meal.

The exhibition includes a broad range of photographic processes, from salt, albumen, carbon, and gum bichromate prints made in the nineteenth century to gelatin silver and platinum prints made in the twentieth century. Examples of contemporary color photography can be found in dye transfer and Chromogenic prints.

In Focus: Tasteful Pictures will be the sixth installation of the ongoing “In Focus” series of exhibitions, thematic presentations of photographs from the Getty’s permanent collection. Previous exhibitions focused on The Nude, The Landscape, The Portrait, Making a Scene (staged photographs), and most recently, The Worker.

Upcoming “In Focus” shows include In Focus: Still Life opening in September 2010, which explores the ways in which still life has served as both a conventional and an experimental form of photography during periods of significant aesthetic and technological change. Also upcoming is In Focus: Trees, opening in February 2011.

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