Instagram has become the palace of the perfect, a highly curated hall of mirrors for the visually inclined and camera friendly. We’ve reached a moment when sun-dappled overhead food shots are no longer novelty, but norm. And Instagram analysts are taking note.
Perfection packs less of a punch than it used to, said Eva Chen, the head of Instagram’s partnerships with fashion brands. In a talk at New York Fashion Week, Chen noted that peak perfection actually proved detrimental to garnering likes and followers. And what she’s saying makes sense: glossy feeds of intensely curated imagery are no longer sacrosanct. In fact, they’re becoming ubiquitous.
She offers an alternative. Why not use Instagram as a place to peek behind the scenes? Share images not just of perfection but of performance, process, and failure. And while this is no winning formula or required technique, think of it as soft suggestion—a method for shifting your social media approach in a direction wholly its own.
Laura Shapiro, author and food anthropologist, proposes something similar in The New York Times. Picture perfect plating is great, she says, but tells the viewer little. She craves an approach to Instagram food photography that prioritizes narrative and experience. She urges her reader to share the less glamorous, more idiosyncratic aspects of their daily diet. Shapiro makes an appeal to the archive, pushing us to photograph in a more inclusive way for the sake of history. How will food historians of the future understand our current state of eating if it’s all just glossy avocados and bright bowls of granola?
While the two arguments approach the topic from different angles, they make similar pleas. In no way do they enforce a mandate, or even instill a new paradigm. But, instead, they suggest a mindset for thinking about the way we Instagram our food. And it’s a suggestion I just might take to heart. Next time I overbuy corn and am forced to make do with a surplus or grab sour cream instead of ricotta, I’ll think about sharing. Because it’s not always going to be perfect plates, as much as we wish it could be.
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.
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