To make food look delicious on camera, stylists resort to all sorts of crafty little tricks, though often yielding something unfit for human consumption. Then there's the other kind of food photography: capturing a chef in action, or a farmer with his crop, or a beautifully executed dish on its way to a diner.
A new exhibit at downtown's MKT BAR celebrates the latter, with work by 22 Texas artists who answered the call for entries in an exhibition juried by Houston Center for Photography and My Table magazine, in partnership with MKT BAR at Phoenicia Specialty Foods Downtown.
It's both the best and the worst venue for an art exhibit. The hip and trendy MKT BAR, with its brick walls, gridded display rack, and a rotating lineup of live music, guest DJs and brunch-time brass, certainly makes for an ambience that ups the cool factor for viewing art. But this global gastropub is often packed with hipsters, downtown workers and hurried waitstaff, making it difficult to get an up-close look at all the photographs in “Feast Your Eyes: Food Photography from Across Texas.”
Foodies might recognize images of some of the heavy hitters in the local food industry, including icons like Jean-Philippe Gaston, Soren Pedersen, William Wright, Dylan Carnes and Alvin Schultz, but no insider knowledge is required to appreciate the photographs.
Nick de la Torre's meat-happy rendition of Davis Meat Co.'s Jim Davis took home the win in the adult division, and is gracing the cover of My Table's June/July issue. The youth winner, Emory Irvine, also received a $250 honorarium for his photograph, Fire Stick.
I absolutely loved the digital version of Keri Henry's Picky Eater No More, with its culture-of-cuteness tableau of tiny, artful meals. In person, however, the image was trimmed to fit a smaller frame, suffering just a bit from the loss of the happy green background. It's still a fun piece, and it's easy to imagine the stress for mom or dad trying to get their child to eat, only giving way to a different kind of stress, like the charaben (character bento) fanaticism that has taken hold in Japan.
Houston Press freelance photographer Chuck Cook has a nice entry in the show – an action image of the high-profile, competition-winning bartender Leslie Ross – capturing a moment in time before her sudden departure from Sanctuari Bar at Triniti.
Nathan Ratliff's trio of metallic-glowing inkjet prints are certainly smile-worthy, yielding classic American diner images of hamburgers and a bird's-eye view of the ritual sharing of french fries.
The tools of the trade take center stage in three photographs by Galina Kurlat, cropping away the chefs' faces to show hands at work for William Wright: Helen, Jean-Philippe Gaston: Izakaya and Soren Pedersen: Currant Kitchen.
Mark Kimbrough's images seem lifted from the canvas of an 18th-century still life, and would look right at home in a museum setting, with their simple composition and dark recesses. There's a more casual look to the food trucks captured by Kelly Berry, allowing the sky to dominate his compositions.
The Egg Man, by Richard Casteel, tells a nice story of Midwest farming with its great expanse of land, a simple coop, an obedient dog and the disappearing over the horizon deep-blue sky.
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There are a few great behind-the-scenes shots of a chef's life, including Ben Sassani's Smoke, where the family is subjected to yet another experiment in molecular gastronomy; and a nice back-of-the-house comic moment when a chef holds a pig's head up in front of his own face, courtesy of Ron Dillon.
Other standouts include the so-disgusting-it's-pretty Offal, Pearl Lakes by Dragana Harris; a pair of gorgeous compositions by Emily Jaschke; and two monochromatic wet plate collodion images by Laura Burlton that could double as designer fabrics.
A few images seem more editorial in nature, but there's nothing tame about the peach pit and squash by John Henry Childs, looking provocatively like a woman's genitalia and derriere.
Additional photographs can be found in the June/July issue of My Table Magazine. “Feast Your Eyes: Food Photography from Across Texas” continues through July 9, at MKT Bar, 1001 Austin, open Mondays to Wednesdays 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sundays 9 a.m. to 8 p.m, 832-360-2222, mktbar.com. Free.