Exploring the aesthetics of food photography with Instagram star Patrick Janelle

Exploring the aesthetics of food photography with Instagram star Patrick Janelle

Lindsay Comstock is a New York-based writer, photographer, and editor. Her work has appeared in American Photo, PDN, and Rangefinder. This post was originally published on the Shutterstock blog and has been adapted with permission. 

“Food is the newest frontier in photography,” says Patrick Janelle, a designer for clients including Bon Appétit and co-creator of New York City-based Spring Street Social Society with former Top Chef contestant Camille Becerra.

Janelle’s vivid Instagram account (@aguynamedpatrick) — featuring a diary of his daily cortado coffee, shout-outs to his favorite restaurants through inventive food photographs, and his New York slice-of-life imagery — enabled him to quickly amass a following of more than 100,000. We caught up with the artist to get his view on why food has become central to photography today.

food 1

Shutterstock: There’s been an uprise in beautifully designed niche publications about food. What do you attribute this to?

Patrick Janelle: There’s a much stronger focus on food in general in our culture. People are very interested in understanding where their food is coming from and eating seasonally. And just as interior and architectural photography were trending earlier in the century, there’s been an upswing and interest in food photography over the last several years. We now want to connect with the origin or our food — perhaps in reaction to the less interpersonal aspects of a digitized world.

Food 2

Food 3

Why do you think this is happening now, specifically?

Just like the decades following the 1950s epitomized packaged foods and industrialized food for the sake of convenience, today’s food culture is concerned with eating conscientiously. (Similar to the Farm-to-Table movement that chef Alice Waters propagated in the 1970s at her Berkeley, California restaurant Chez Panisse.)

Food 4

What trends are you seeing in the styling and aesthetics of contemporary food photography?

The styling tends to be organic and loose, and maybe slightly askew. Publications are veering away from everything being perfect, toward everything having more texture and composition — even a little more clutter, so the aesthetic is a little more lived-in.

That being said, it’s all very styled; it’s not haphazard in any way. For instance, with food, sometimes the better photo is not one of a perfectly composed dish — it’s of someone who’s just launched into a dish with a fork. The attempt is to give the imagery more context.

Food 5

How would you describe your own visual aesthetic, and how does this correspond with your design work?

I shoot very clear, sharp images in which there’s a specific subject I’m trying to capture; the aesthetic tends to be editorial. I like to have elements of personal objects in the photos. If I’m taking a photo of coffee, you might see a glove or my wallet in the photo — it gives it some context and makes it really specific to the environment (and the client).

My photos describe my personal aesthetic. The images are beautiful (and hopefully not too precious) and representative of a heightened aspirational lifestyle. I think it’s really important in any of my line of work — whether for Instagram or designing for a client or doing work for a magazine — to understand who the audience is, what the context is, and therefore what the best use of the medium is.

Every medium has its own context and constraint. What I shoot works well for Instagram; it wouldn’t necessarily work in a gallery setting.

Food 6

Food 7

How does the work on your Instagram account tie into the rest of your life?

My interest in photography and the editorial world extends beyond styling for photography. Instead, I’m interested in how that mode of lifestyle can be extended into our real lives. That’s why I’ve felt the need to create these dinner parties and gatherings surrounding food. It’s important to me to not let this creation only be digital and social — I’m interested in making these connections in a very tangible way. I don’t want this to exist only in the ether.

I want my feed to be a story I’m telling, where people can get to know me through little details of my life in a chronological narrative. I enjoy finding the new spots in the city and giving them exposure.

Food 8

All Instagram photos in this story are © Patrick Janelle.

Top image credit: Shutterstock/Patrick Janelle

Read next: Popcorn Time now streams TV shows and is available on Android