A friend of some friends has the curious habit of taking a photograph of every meal he eats. Whether he is at home or dining out, no matter the occasion, he takes out his camera and makes a record of that which he is about to eat.
Our mutual friends discuss this individual’s practice as part of a continuum of OCD behaviour on his part, but I can’t recall their deliberations ever extending to reveal what he does with the photos he produces.
On my own, I have contemplated his apparently obsessive desire to take photos of his meals.
First of all I wonder about the logistics of taking the photos. What kind of camera does he have? Or does he use a mobile phone? When he’s in public or dining at a friend’s is he concerned that he might be breaching social etiquette by producing his camera at an inopportune moment? At home, does he have to contend with irritated loved ones who just want to start eating before the meal goes cold?
Perhaps the meal doesn’t have a chance to go cold. That possibility would suggest he cared about the quality of the photo he was producing due either to another dimension of his already compulsive behaviour or the knowledge that the photos would be seen by others, who might bring some understanding of ‘quality’ to their judgement of them.
As someone who occasionally blogs about my own meal experiences and who likes to accompany any rumination on culinary feats (either shopping, cooking or eating) with pictorial evidence, I’ll admit that I’m slightly intrigued by the proposition of taking a photo of every meal I eat. As a study in the everyday it appeals to me. What kind of picture would emerge over time? What narratives would be wrought?
Here, I’m reminded of the Paul Auster/Wayne Wang film, Smoke, where a tobacconist, Augie, takes a photo of the corner outside of his shop at the same time everyday. He places them in an album and looks through them from time to time, observing the shifts of people and seasons just outside his door.
Doing a similar project with meals would, in an affluent country such as Australia, lend occasion for more variation in the photographs taken than those in the Auster/Wang film. And, since the advent of blogging, the impulse to post the photographs online would be overwhelming; it’s the stuff of those 365 Blogs whose authors seek to self-impose discipline and post everyday for a year.
Imagine the stories, not of culinary or photographic expertise, but of meals prepared and eaten: shared and alone, on holidays, remembered from childhood, exotic and plain, old favourites and new discoveries, experiments and failures, for comfort, health, and taste, and, indeed, for very much more.