JESSE PEARSON | DATE 6/20/2016
Have you always wished that you could try William Eggleston’s cheese grits casserole? Is there any food that screams “Ed Ruscha” more loudly than a cactus omelet? Do Stephen Shore’s definitive photos taken inside American eateries of the 1970s make him somehow more qualified than other people to suggest a key lime pie recipe?
The answer to all of the above is, of course, yes. But, more importantly, if you have any sense you’re also now wondering where and how you can find all of these recipes—and then a second later, which is now, you’re remembering that you're reading a review of the recently discovered cult tome, The Photographer's Cookbook. (And all of this thinking is taking place faster than you can poach an egg in microwaved ale, per the instructions of Ansel Adams on the first spread of the book).
In 1977, Deborah Barsel, a registrar at the George Eastman House, placed an ad in the institution’s house organ, Image magazine, soliciting recipes from photographers. She reaped a generous return, including entries by all of the aforementioned badasses as well as from Brassaï (Du Lard Paprikas Hongrois, ie, Hungarian Pork Belly Spread), Imogen Cunningham (borscht), Richard Avedon (pot roast), Horst P. Horst (cucumber salad, below), Hans Namuth (French peasant bread) and many more. But Barsel left the museum to attend graduate school before she could complete the project, and the recipes, along with their complementary photographs, languished in obscurity for more than 35 years until Lisa Hostetler, the current Curator in Charge at the Eastman House, rescued them, compiled them and released them in this new, beautiful little volume. Such a fun piece of forgotten history.
There are true surprises here, like Robert Heinecken popping up with a martini recipe, and Les Krims offering his wackadoo “Formalist Stew,” which apparently has 185 ingredients and takes 31 days to prepare. There’s also joy in being reminded of photographers that you haven’t thought of for a while, like Judy Dater (tortillas and eggs), Bea Nettles (nettles soup, appropriately enough), and Minor White (steamed and sautéed vegetables). The only photographer whose work existed at the time of this book’s initial creation who isn’t included, and who I wish were, is Paul Outerbridge, Jr., whose 1936 color image Avocado Pears is my favorite food photo in art history til Roe Ethridge came on the scene. That Paul Jr. died a couple of decades previous to 1977 shouldn’t matter; I’m sure he would have been readily available via Ouija.
That aside, The Photographer's Cookbook is pretty much adorable. Along with its texts comes a selection of essential photography—one by each featured artist to accompany their recipe, sometimes literally and other times impressionistically. Both methods yield tasty results.
JESSE PEARSON is the founder and editor of Apology. He was previously an editor at index and the editor-in-chief of Vice. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he is Creative Director of Super Deluxe.
APERTURE/GEORGE EASTMAN MUSEUM
Hbk, 6.5 x 8.5 in. / 160 pgs / illustrated throughout.