Food photography pioneer Martin Parr reveals how we eat in new book

Martin Parr.
Martin Parr.

Everyone is a food photographer these days.

So where does that leave Martin Parr, who has been snapping food portraits for 25 years?  

His new book, Real Food, features more than 200 slates of everyday meals and snacks from 36 countries.

Why focus on food when everybody else is doing it and he is known for capturing ordinary people at work and play, many of them on holiday at the British seaside?

He says: "You can tell a lot about society, who we are and what we like doing, by looking at the food we eat. As a subject matter, it's quite revealing. It's like a new social landscape, so it's been good to explore food all around the world.

"I am showing food as it really is because we are surrounded by images in magazines, where you see food looking glorious and beautiful, and we know that most people don't surround themselves with food like that. It is like the propaganda of food sales."

Parr, 63, says he works quickly, taking just a few minutes to capture an image with a macro lens and a ring flash. 

For his first food book, British Food, published in 1995, he used a Nikon and shot on film. He has since moved on to a digital Canon.

"Food photography has become ubiquitous since I started it," he says. "I was doing this in the days of film, when it was much more difficult to photograph your food close up, whereas now you just whip your iPhone out and you can photograph everything."

His work sometimes attracts controversy, with critics accusing him of snobbishness for his pictures of ordinary people at play.

"I'm always amazed how controversial my images are," he says. "I don't know how or why this happens.

"I am recording what's there. Of course, what you are looking for are the ambiguities and contradictions of modern life, which you can find, particularly in England, all over the place. I am acutely aware of England because I have a love-hate relationship and I can express that, so it's partly therapeutic."

Why love-hate?

"Life is neither good nor bad. Modern life has many things that are wrong with it and many things that are terrific. Propaganda tends to be a one-sided view so I am looking for my own personal take, which often will be the expression of an ambiguity.

"I'm a food snob so I like good food, but I also like junk food. I even have a Big Mac from time to time. Do you not? Are you a food snob as well then? Are you? Then you are partly to blame for this food culture that we've got, which I'm trying, in a sense, to puncture."


•Real Food, by Martin Parr, is available at Books Kinokuniya at $35.26.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2016, with the headline 'Food photography pioneer reveals how we eat in new book'. Print Edition | Subscribe