Travels & Traditions: What are they Eating in the Photograph? - #1105

BURT WOLF: When it comes to eating and drinking there are two great truths:

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): If you don’t eat and drink you will soon depart for the great beyond, and no matter how much you eat and drink at any one time you will soon be hungry. As a result, eating and drinking are at the center of all life, and packed with significance way beyond the idea of nutrition. And anything that important is a fit subject for an artist.

BURT WOLF: The earliest drawings that we know about are in the Lascaux caves of France. They date back over 30,000 years and illustrate hunters going out for meat. Where’s the beef has always been an important question.

The ancient Egyptians covered the walls of their tombs with pictures of things to eat and drink in the afterlife.

The art of the middle ages was packed with scenes of cooking and eating.

Leonardo Di Vinci’s Last Supper shows you what people were eating and drinking during the Renaissance.

The subject matter of Cezanne’s still life paintings came right out of his local market.

And since the middle of the 1800s, things to eat and drink have been in photographs.

This program looks at some of the great food related photographs. And explains why the photographs are important from an artistic viewpoint.

It also tells the story behind the foods that are in the pictures.

And I gathered a group of great chefs to demonstrate their favorite recipes for the foods that are in the photographs.

I also called in some photography experts to help us understand the images.

Jeff Rosenheim is a curator in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and a leading figure in the world of photography.

Andy Smith is the editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, and the author of more than 300 articles on the subject of eating and drinking.

Kathryn Howard Oremland has a degree in Fine Art from New York University in photography. Her dissertation at Sotheby’s Institute of Art delt with the use of food as a medium for contemporary art. She also worked at Kreemart, an organization that enables contemporary artists to work with desserts.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): And I’m here for the hamburger and because I promised to pick up the check.

JEFF ROSENHEIM (ON CAMERA): Speaking of the hamburger, one of the great pictures that we have in the history of American photography is this Philippe Halsman study of Marilyn Monroe at the beginning of her career. It was made somewhere outside of Los Angeles for a Life magazine picture story. And it's among the most popular pictures online today, for obvious reasons.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): And would you care to mention some of those reasons?

JEFF ROSENHEIM (ON CAMERA): Well no one minds a good picture of someone eating a hamburger, but when it's Marilyn Monroe in this soft top convertible, at the diner, it just tells us about the many pleasures of American culture.

JEFF ROSENHEIM (ON CAMERA): Halsman was born in Latvia, came to the States in 1940, and he was beloved by art directors everywhere, because of his bold style and his understanding of the psychological moment. He was on the cover of Life and Look and Esquire and Saturday Evening Post many, many times. And he seemed to be able to communicate with his subjects. 

And he understood how to make a picture that sells eroticism and desire and it works for me.

KATHIE HOWARD OREMLAND (ON CAMERA): I could see why it would work for you guys much more. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Well, when I was looking at that photograph and thinking about it, I was thinking about the history of the automobile, and people traveling and eating. Until the 1920s, when Ford started to make the mass produced cars, people did not eat on the road. And then as soon as the cars came out, somebody in the government figured out how to put together Route 66.

ANDY SMITH (ON CAMERA): This is a wonderful photograph with a number of different culinary symbols in it. At the center of it, you have the hamburger. And the hamburger of course starts off as a street food. And as the automobiles began to clog the inner city streets, the street had to move onto the sidewalk. The hamburger vendors needed to move to more permanent facilities, and one of the places they moved to was the drive-in. They created the drive-in in the 1920s to help feed people who were traveling from city to city on Route 66. 

JEFF ROSENHEIM (ON CAMERA): It's a picture that's trying to sell a budding star. And that's Marilyn Monroe. She'd done "Asphalt Jungle" and she's about to do "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." And this is a picture that is going to be used to market a new star in the firmament of the country.

KATHIE HOWARD OREMLAND (ON CAMERA): It's about the gaze. And it's a very sexual photograph. And it's very appealing to men, and.

ANDY SMITH: The gaze is fascinating. I mean normally when you eat, you look at the food that you’re eating. She’s not looking at her food at all. She’s looking right at the camera.

KATHIE HOWARD OREMLAND (ON CAMERA): There are different foods that provoke different emotions, and Marilyn eating provokes a number of emotions, I'm sure. And it's taken by a man. So it's definitely about the male point of view as to what women should look like.

KATHIE HOWARD OREMLAND: But something that is interesting, is that she's sitting in the driver's seat, which puts her in a position of power, or at least more power than if she were not driving the car herself.


BURT WOLF: To get a better understanding of what they are eating in the photographs, I asked a number of leading chefs to demonstrate their favorite recipe for the food that’s in the picture.

Michael Lomonico is the chef and owner of Porterhouse New York. He took one look at the Halsman photo of Marilyn and headed for his prime beef room.

MICHAEL LOMONICO (ON CAMERA): This is real Prime Rib. In other words it’s actually grated Prime. Most steaks that people call Prime Rib are not Prime. It’s not required by the government. But this is Prime Beef, it’s a Rib of beef and it’s dry aged. So Burt what we do is there’s always the end of the steak that we can’t use. But we trim it, this goes into the Chef’s private reserve. Private stash really. 

MICHAEL LOMONICO: We’re gonna want to grind some of this for a while.

MICHAEL LONOMICO (ON CAMERA): Now when I say don’t over handle it that’s really because we want it to be just packed so that it holds together. And when you over work it, and people tend to do that they take burger meat and they over work it and they put seasonings in it all of those things leach out the flavor of the beef.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): If you’ve got good beef just leave it alone.

BURT WOLF: He adds a little salt, and pepper, then the burgers go on a hot grill along side the prime beef steak. 

MICHAEL LOMONICO (ON CAMERA): A great burger should really remind you of what it is. Beef. Fresh beef.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Great steak.

MICHAEL LOMONICO (ON CAMERA): Great steak, it should be.

BURT WOLF: The buns are toasted and the burgers go on with some sliced onion, tomato and lettuce.

MICHAEL LOMONICO: And a great steak is one thing, but a great burger should be as satisfying as a great steak. 


JEFF ROSENHEIM: This great picture by Cartier Bresson of a picnic on the banks of the Marnes. 

JEFF ROSENHEIM (ON CAMERA): It was made in 1938 by the father of street photography, and even photo-journalism, one might say. 

JEFF ROSENHEIM: And it's a picture of leisure and pleasure.

We really feel like we're practically pouring the wine that the gentleman is pouring. We're looking over the shoulder of the figures, and we're practically there, and yet they don't know it. I don't feel like we're intruding. We're ...


JEFF ROSENHEIM: We're joining in.

KATHIE HOWARD OREMLAND: It's a very interesting point of view from a photographic standpoint. To take photos from behind. Because usually within portraiture or documentary style photography, the expression of the face is more important. But here it's kind of more about the scene. So it's somewhat reminiscent even of landscape photography almost.

ANDY SMITH: It's also a fascinating culinary picture too. Because you have a number of different culinary images. 

ANDY SMITH (ON CAMERA): You've got what most likely is chicken I assume. Is that what they're eating? 


JEFF ROSENHEIM: I love chicken.

ANDY SMITH: It's a perfect picnic food. It can be eaten hot, eaten cold. It's great. You've got a bottle of wine here. And so they're enjoying themselves thoroughly. You've got knives and forks and plates on this. And you've got relatively heavy set Frenchmen. 

JEFF ROSENHEIM (ON CAMERA): It's also possible that the picture was made by Cartier Bresson after the popular front gave the right to most French workers to have 15 days of paid holiday, and this could be likely one of those early pictures in 1938.

KATHIE HOWARD OREMLAND: And interesting thing on documentary photography is that it's an indexical icon, and it is exactly what has happened. And it was shot on film, it's not digital. 

A Picnic illustrates our desire to bring together two opposites in our lives. We like the idea of getting out of our structured home environment, and traveling into the untamed wilderness. "The Picnic" gives us a sense that we are free and adventurous. We love the idea of being close to nature, but not too close. 

BURT WOLF: The moment we get out there, the first thing we do is we try to separate ourselves from it. We mark off our territory with a picnic cloth. We even hold down the edges with boundary stones. We cover the cloth with foods we cooked at home. But what we're actually doing is trading the discomfort of our formerly enclosed dining rooms and restaurants for the joys of prickly grass, pointed stones, flying insects, and unpredictable weather. To me, it proves the old saying, "A change of aggravation is like a holiday." 


MARK MURPHY (ON CAMERA): Iimagine a photographer takes photographs of things they enjoy looking at.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): It’s the same thing.

MARK MURPHY (ON CAMERA): And it’s the same thing, a restaurant and a chef wants to create food that he or she wants to eat. 

BURT WOLF: Mark Murphy is the executive chef and owner of a number of New York City restaurants including Landmark Tribecca and Ditch Plains. I asked him for a favorite picnic menu.

MARK MURPHY (ON CAMERA): So we’re gonna do a roasted chicken, very simply. Some leaks vinaigrette. Also I’ve got a pizza dough over here. 

BURT WOLF: The lardon is pressed into the pizza dough. Lardon is simply large chucks of bacon. Grueyere cheese is sprinkles on top. A little sea salt and olive oil. 


BURT WOLF: Then it’s off to the oven for 15 minutes.

MARK MURPHY (ON CAMERA): And now the next thing we’re gonna do is get the leaks ready. We’re making a little leaks vinaigrette.

MARK MURPHY: The most important thing about leaks you see is that you have to make sure they are separated. To make sure you get all of the dirt out. And another thing a lot of people I think make mistakes at home is when they’re washing spinach or leaks or anything like that is they take this and they dump it out. 

MARK MURPHY (ON CAMERA): Now that’s wrong because now then what you’re doing is you’re taking the dirt out of the leaks. So you have to take the leaks and scoop them off the top. 

MARK MURPHY: Because what you do is now the dirt because it’s heavier than the leaks the dirt’s gonna go to the bottom and not on the leaks. Very important.

BURT WOLF: The leaks then go into boiling water and cook until tender. 

MARK MURPHY (ON CAMERA): So now they’re nice and tender. We’re gonna dump them out. And you want to shock them with a little bit of ice. It helps keep that nice color. Or else just run them under some cold water for a little bit. 

BURT WOLF: Next the leaks are tossed with salt and vinaigrette dressing. 

The chicken is prepared by seasoning with salt and pepper. The cavity is filled with garlic, onion, lemon and thyme. Butter is placed under the skin and the chicken is ready to be tied up. 

MARK MURPHY (ON CAMERA): Take your twine, do a figure eight, put it right behind the legs, get the wings, flip it over, and most important you do one, two, this way the knot doesn’t slip, then you don’t have to ask someone to put their finger there. See how that kind of holds just like that.

BURT WOLF: The chicken is placed on a baking pan, glazed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted at 350 degrees for about an hour. 

MARK MURPHY (ON CAMERA): Cooking isn’t all that difficult, you just have to think a little bit. This is why I started doing this for a living, I didn’t want to think too much, just a little bit. Now we’re gonna go throw this in the oven. 

BURT WOLF: When the chicken is cooked Mark cuts it into hand sized chunks for easy eating at the picnic. 

MARK MURPHY (ON CAMERA): Anybody getting hungry?


JEFF ROSENHEIM: We've got a great picture of the inside of a automat in New York City. It was made just blocks from right where we’re sitting.

It's a picture made during a project by Berenice Abbott, who was most well known for her studies of the fabric of New York City during the depression. It was made for the Federal Art Project. And we're looking at the inside of a restaurant where there are no waiters.

JEFF ROSENHEIM (ON CAMERA): Where there are no menus per se. But there is often great food and coffee.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): You walked up to these people, and you gave them your dollars, and they gave you nickels. And you took your fistful of nickels and you put it in this machine. And then the food came out. You had no idea of who cooked it, and then you left. And if you had the nickels, you didn't even have to talk to the lady who made change.

ANDY SMITH (ON CAMERA): But there were some really great things about automats.

BURT WOLF: The food was good.

ANDY SMITH (ON CAMERA): Not just the food was good, in addition to that, you didn't have to pay a tip. You didn't have to talk to people. You could go in, get your food, you could just have it by yourself, and then walk out again, and you don't have to have this huge affair of having a dining with two or three hours of eating.

BURT WOLF: It's like the Internet of gastronomy.

KATIE HOWARD OREMLAND (ON CAMERA): Yes, it's the precursor to the digital era, in a post-industrialized society. But another thing that's important though is that they found that people who eat together generally tend to be thinner. 

KATIE HOWARD OREMLAND: And eating alone in isolation has lead to this kind of obesity crisis, and hiding food, and eating in secret, and not having to deal with people allows you know, for people to eat more because they're not being judged by the people around them.

JEFF ROSENHEIM (ON CAMERA): It's interesting to me that this interior of the automat, that she focuses on this section of pies and cakes. 

ANDY SMITH: Pies of course were the main purpose on why you went into an automat. They were really good. They didn't have to be hot when they were there. And you wouldn't really want the entrées, because you couldn't keep them hot, and so therefore they weren't as good. 

ANDY SMITH (ON CAMERA): You might have gotten a sandwich or something like that. But the pies, you go in there for a quick bite, and they were really, really good. 

But this is a perfect reflection of food in the Depression. Where people didn't have any money, and it was very impersonal. This is the most impersonal way of eating. So you just deal with a machine, you don't have to deal with any human being at all.

JEFF ROSENHEIM (ON CAMERA): Yet people have a very strong fondness for the automat. 

ANDY SMITH (ON CAMERA): I loved it. I mean I loved it.

KATIE HOWARD (ON CAMERA): Now I have a question because I've never really been to one, except for the one on St. Marks, where it would cost $3 in quarters for something to eat. Did things actually cost a nickel? Or did you have to put in multiple nickels for one item?

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Coffee was a nickel. Then at one point it was 10 cents. I think most of the things I bought were under 50 cents. I'm 111 years old.

ANDY SMITH: But as soon as the Depression was over, and World War II was over, they began to decline, and by the '60s and '70s most of them had gone out of business. And in the end they were sold to Burger King. 


BURT WOLF: When you’re talking pies the place to go is Sarabeth’s Bakery. Sarabeth Levine wrote the book on baking and today she’s making a classic apple pie. She starts with the dough. Butter and milk are combined in a mixer.

SARABETH LEVINE (ON CAMERA): And the technique here which is very important. Is to very slowly pour the milk in. Because you want it to really just slowly suck in the liquid. But I really want to just get you to see what it really becomes something like a butter cream. You see that?


SARABETH LEVINE: And it’s really terrific. 

BURT WOLF: Flour, salt and sugar are added. 

SARABETH LEVINE (ON CAMERA): Now we’re just gonna add this like this. 

BURT WOLF: The dough is rounded up and chilled for about an hour.

SARABETH LEVINE (ON CAMERA): Two apple pies. Look at that gorgeous dough. And I’ll be right back to put these over here.

Now, when I cut them very thin.

BURT WOLF: Next thinly sliced apples are seasoned with lemon juice, sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, and mixed with some flour. 

SARABETH LEVINE (ON CAMERA): We’re just gonna mix it all together. That will hold it together.

BURT WOLF: Then the secret ingredient, vanilla bean. 

SARABETH LEVINE (ON CAMERA): These are the seeds. What we do is we cut the end, and we stick all these beans in a jar with rum, about an inch of rum. It takes about three weeks for them to absorb. But it’s like a capillary reaction. 

Alright I have to taste this. Um, and wash my hands. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): We’ll be back right after this message. The message is the more often you wash your hands, the healthier you’re gonna be. That’s from the center for disease control. Thank you.

SARABETH LEVINE (ON CAMERA): Alright, that’s gonna sit over here. 

BURT WOLF: Now she’s ready to roll out the dough. 

SARABETH LEVINE (ON CAMERA): And I go like this look around the sides. And what this does is this tamping the sides of this nice round piece of dough and it wont split. So if you use the end of this you can bring it back into its round shape. Looks easy huh? 


SARABETH LEVINE (ON CAMERA): It is. No, once you get the hang of it.

BURT WOLF: The dough goes into the pan and it’s filled with the apple mixture. 

SARABETH LEVINE (ON CAMERA): Burt this smells so good we don’t even need to cook it. I have to eat one, this one. Oh my god, this is, excuse me.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): She’ll be back after she finishes her nosh. 

SARABETH LEVINE (ON CAMERA): Go like that with your fingers.

BURT WOLF: The dough is closed up like a dumpling and brushed with some leftover mixture. Then, it’s topped with some sugary crumbs. 

SARABETH LEVINE: And there is your gorgeous, gorgeous crumb pie. 

BURT WOLF: The pie goes in the oven, and after a short musical interlude, it’s ready to eat.

SARABETH LEVINE (ON CAMERA): Look at this gorgeous thing, oh my god. 

BURT WOLF: The automat never tasted so good.

SARABETH LEVINE (ON CAMERA): Burt, this is a nice pie. 


KATIE HOWARD OREMLAND: This next photograph is by an artist named Cindy Sherman. It was made in 1978 and it is called "Untitled Film Still #10." This series of "Untitled Film Stills" are all black and white photographs and Sherman has placed herself within the shot as an anonymous actress. They are reminiscent of foreign films, Hollywood B-Movies, and film noir. Sherman is an important figure in the conceptual photography movement, where the artist is the subject, but the pictures are not considered self-portraits.

ANDY SMITH (ON CAMERA): This is Cindy Sherman?

JEFF ROSENHEIM (ON CAMERA): This is Cindy Sherman. She's wearing a wig, and she is performing for the camera. 

KATIE HOWARD OREMLAND: I think she's also wearing a prosthetic nose in this one.


KATIE HOWARD OREMLAND: I do. She likes the use of prosthetics. 

JEFF ROSENHEIM: Wow I didn’t know that.

BURT WOLF: It's a fake nose? 

ANDY SMITH: It could be. 


JEFF ROSENHEIM: She's certainly wearing a wig. 

KATIE HOWARD OREMLAND: Yes, absolutely. Because she's blond.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Weird. Sorry. 

JEFF ROSENHEIM (ON CAMERA): People are creating performances which are then using the documentary value of the camera to record those performances that are different than typical types of documentary street scenes. 

JEFF ROSENHEIM: And in this case, she's playing with the idea of roles, and the roles that women have been asked to play in film, and in photography. And she's challenging notions of what is real. 

ANDY SMITH: But this isn't a typical shot. I mean it's not life in the kitchen. It's a very sexually explicit photograph. Is that what it's intended to be? 

KATIE HOWARD: Absolutely. It's about the sexual exploitation of women within these B-movies. That people wouldn't see if it weren't for the hot actress within it. So she's directly addressing the idea of the male gaze, and this feminine view that women are the symptom of men.

ANDY SMITH: But this is not a sexual gaze. I mean if you look at their face alone, that's not a come on. It's not

KATIE HOWARD OREMLAND (ON CAMERA): No, she intentionally had blank faces, and she made sure to be neutral in her photographs, and not campy, to really kind of reinforce the idea of a B-movie. It's a pregnant moment. You're waiting for something to happen. She's on the floor. She's dropped her groceries. She is almost asking for help in a way

JEFF ROSENHEIM: So what about the egg carton. Tell us about the egg carton.

ANDY SMITH: Well, historically eggs of course are symbols of fertility, and they'll go back millennia, and they end up in today's society as Easter Eggs, and as eggs in Passover celebration and things of that sort. So you really do have the spring festival, and that's part of what this is about. But you've got it's the pose that adds to that. 


BURT WOLF: Our egg recipe comes from the Restaurant Bacher in Austria.

The reason for its outstanding reputation is Lisl Wagner-Bacher who took over the restaurant from her father in the early 80s. She is a self-taught chef who does the shopping and most of the cooking.

Today she is preparing her signature appetizer. An egg is soft boiled for six minutes---peeled---dipped into flour---- dipped into egg wash--- coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried for about 90 seconds. A little sour cream goes on a dish. A puree of potatoes. The egg. And a heaping tablespoon of caviar.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): That’s the last photograph? Thank you very much for joining me.

JEFF ROSENHEIM: Thank you Burt.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): And thank you.

BURT WOLF: For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.