NY-based photographer/director duo Taylor Peden and Jen Munkvold – otherwise known as Peden + Munk – shoot a visually appealing blend of food and lifestyle photography that sets itself well apart from the monotonous pre-set mediocrity of so much self-avowedly creative food photography.
Whereas many middling photographers go for the lazy saccharine highs and diabetes-inducing close-ups of mainstream culinary fair, Peden + Munk instead concentrate on food made as nature intended it: simple ingredients skillfully combined. The food is earthy, rustic and real; and comes served on plates to match. These are dishes that are genuinely appetizing, without resorting to the lazy pop-appeal of a cheap sugar rush or mainline grease-injection.
The above is of course largely a question of food styling, and for all we know may be more down to the caliber of commissions the duo receives rather than testimony to their own talent for artistic direction. Yet there’s a similarly wholesome simplicity evident on the photographic side of things too. Indeed, while invariably stylish, well-framed, and demonstrating an excellent awareness of color, this is genuinely creative food photography that derives much of it’s strength from nothing more complicated than the flattering portrayal of life’s simpler pleasures.
In fact, if food photography could ever be described as deadpan, then this is probably it. While always stimulating to look at, the pair reject both the kitsch-romanticism and heavy-handed retouching techniques employed in so much food photography, approaching their subjects in a manner that could almost be described as phenomenological: the-food-in-itself.
Despite – or perhaps precisely because of – this, their photographs frequently transmit flashes of taste, touch, and even temperature to the well attuned viewer. Indeed their work clearly demonstrates that the pair possess an evolved sensibility to the tactile and sensorial. This sensibility also extends to their use of light: whether it be intense sunshine or, more frequently, the diffused and indirect light of leafy shade, Peden+ Munk’s photographs are always nicely-lit.
The duo also have a good eye for creating striking visual juxtapositions, combining images of food in various stages of preparation with coincidental and environmental “cut-aways” that help to suggest an intriguing narrative beyond the plate.
However, while several series of photos start off in a clearly well thought out and varied order, some edits then inexplicably go on to assume ever increasingly random-looking groupings as they progress – as if the photographers lacked either the sufficient time or concentration to see the process through to termination.
On occasion, a sequence will even disintegrate into an order that appears to owe more to the chronological numbering of file names than to narrative intent or artistic vision. As for example is the case with the series Oaxaca, where several graphic shots of cacti have been unceremoniously dumped at the end – as if merely an afterthought to the more traditional creative food photography that came earlier.
Although inevitably there’s always some risk that editorial lifestyle imagery of this kind will veer a little too close to stock photo territory to remain truly credible, to their credit Peden + Munk succeed in evading the worst of these pitfalls. So while there are plenty of shots of impossibly stylish groups of “creative types” relaxing in various secret outdoor idylls, we’re given none of the threadbare clichés that many less-talented photographers instinctively fall back on when depicting such scenes. Indeed the beautiful people who inhabit Peden + Munk’s world are of an altogether more convincing and sympathetic kind than the one-dimensional punch-out hipsters of standard “aspirational” lifestyle photography.
Some might query whether Peden + Munk can really be considered food photographers at all. But it’s not easy to see how such a question adds anything of value to the conversation. They take photos; many of which contain food. Either you like their photos, or you don’t. And here at Best Food .Photography we definitely fall into the former of these two categories. Certainly, we would much sooner see some more of their of lively and stylish culinary-themed visual narratives than yet another identikit bit of food-photography-by-numbers.
Whereas much so-called creative food photography is often anything but creative, Peden + Munk can claim the title with considerable justification.