Monday, April 18, 2005

Identity crisis and rebirth

Over the weekend, I had a blogger identity crisis. I always considered myself a food photographer and that the raison d'etre of this blog was to showcase my food photography. I found food photography to be particularly challenging and rewarding, enjoying every step of the way. It also made me more conscious of what colors I plated together at home and generally increased my dining pleasure both in and out of my own kitchen.

During the last month, however, I had several events that made me pause and think about the purpose of my blog. I was admonished for taking pictures of croissants I had bought at La Farine in Berkeley, which really surprised me. I was actually shocked that stores would have a problem having their products photographed. Maybe because of cultural differences, but I think most stores in Japan would be tickled with honor to see their products generate enough interest to have their pictures taken. This event reminded me of an episode on my favorite comic series, Oishinbo, where the protagonist, Yamaoka-san, and his buddies go around sushi stores in Tokyo, looking for somewhere to excite their photographer friend into action. When one sushi chef, known for his 'ganko' (stubborn, difficult) attitude, reprimands the photographer for trying to take pictures, Yamaoka-san gets really angry and says, "Let's get out of here. They either have lost their 'shokunin' (artisan) heart or they have something to hide."

I think had the girl at La Farine asked nicely to not take pictures, I may not have been as shocked, but her harsh tone made me think twice about my interest in food photography. I then decided that asking first was a good policy and instituted that. Since I got free business cards printed a while back, describing me as a scientist/food photographer, I generally just present that and ask if they mind. I've rarely had stores say no, but I had another instance at another bakery, where they said that they would rather not have me take pictures. The lady there was very nice and gave me a book with their store featured as a replacement to me taking my own pictures there. I'm not quite sure what the reason was, but store policy is store policy, and in a way, I'm glad the girl at La Farine made me more sensitive about stores and photography. Maybe because that stereotype of the Japanese and their camera is based on some truth, we generally don't think twice about taking pictures everywhere.

Right around the same time, there was a discussion going on in my blog school, Food Blog S'cool, about food photography. This made me aware of a whole new issue - that other customers don't like it when people at other tables are taking pictures!!!! It never would've occurred to me in a million years that other diners would be bothered by my taking pictures at my table!!! I mean, it's one thing if I am taking pictures of them, but if I am taking pictures of the food, I didn't think there would be a problem. I surely never notice it when others are taking pictures at their tables. I grew up with the camera as a part of nice dining experiences, since my family LOVES to take pictures at family get-togethers! Again, perhaps this is a cultural difference, but I would never expect fellow Japanese to get offended my taking pictures at my own table. If anything, this was a greater shock than the restaurants and stores not wanting to have their pictures taken. But it is never my intention for my hobby to taint anyone's special occasions, or even plain ol' dining experience, so I decided to hang up my camera at American/European style restaurants.

So then, I fell into a sort of blog identity crisis. What is the purpose of this blog if I don't have food photography to power it? Sure, my pictures aren't that great, but food photography was my identity. There are a million other food blogs with much better restaurant reviews, and what I had to offer were my take on the food that excited me that I presented through my photography. I had several options: 1) go Asian-only for restaurants, 2) not do restaurants and just do home-cooked, and 3) forget the whole blog thing. I eliminated Option 3 quickly, since I rather enjoy having this forum to keep in touch with my sister & my friends (although, Seth, you broke my heart with you confession that you no longer read my blog every day...) and meet new friends. Options 1 and 2 were both available, but something deep inside me was hurt, as I questioned my purpose if I were so limited in what I could talk about - the blog was after all, a place for me to let my mind wander and write about whatever food that struck a chord inside me.

I took an unprecedented two day hiatus from blogging while I dealt with another work-related crisis and ate fries at Luka's for comfort (yup, third Luka's visit in five days).

And then, my sister sent me an email that was like the clouds breaking and sun shining through. It was a one liner, suggesting me to take a look at a website about airline food in preparation to my trip to Japan, but in it, she called me a "food journalist of sort". Food Journalist. I liked that. It fit me well. Not only do I take pictures, but I try to find out about the food that excites me and include trivia and information when presenting my photography. I am a budding food journalist!

So, here I am. Rebirth. My Epicurean Debauchery survives. I am a food journalist. I may or may not present my pictures with every article, but I will try to include anecdotes, stories, history, and trivia with each post I publish. If you have a topic you want me to cover, send me on assignments! I will report my thoughts, likely with my photograph as best I can!


Anonymous said...

I've read your blog for a couple of months now, and I have to say the photos are the best part. I find it silly that people would be upset that you were taking photos of your food at your table. I say, screw them. If they resturant asks you not to take photos, then fine, but keep as many photos as you can comming! They are the best part! Pictures from everywhere! Long live pictures!

The Papa Bear said...

Yey, the MED lives!

I agree with Carla. The pictures really make the words surrounding them relevant and exciting. And you take such wonderful and imaginative photographs that even a bumpkin like me appreciates (especially when I get to do hand-model occasionally).

I'm looking forward to more fun posts. Keep on writin', Baby!

Guy said...


Yeah, I was and do go through that on a regular basis. So nice of you to lay it down coherently.
My crisis stems more from the fact that we're now absolutely swimming in food blogs. So much great writing, so many great photographers. Restaurant reviews, baking, Industry and so forth. Many great things done every day. I feel as though I've lost my identity. "Biggles runs another food blog". Another food blog. Not real appetizing is it? Where to go from here? What's next? I have no idea. I do know if I had to stop taking pictures of food I'd just die. That will surely continue. And if that continues I might as well keep the blog up. Keep to my schtick and do what I do. Besides, when someone comments about something I've done and they enjoyed it, makes it worth while. Besides, it'll be interesting to see where all this is in a year or two. Don't ya think?

Along the same lines, I'll only take pictures for breakfast or lunch. I wouldn't bring my rig to a dinner table. Just seems rude to me. Doesn't bother me though, I think we only eat out for dinner once or twice a year.


Owen said...

Dr B - please don't get an identity crisis! We can't have you becoming a vegetarian or something!

Seriously - your blog is differentiated. You are the meat guy. It is partly why you get the attention, but only partly - you write well - you take good pictures and you post a lot. Right there that puts you up at the top...

...and Alice - glad you got over the crisis - you are a great addition to the scene

Alice said...

Carla & Papa,

Thanks for the support! I'll surely be taking pictures during my 5 day stay in Japan!

Doc B,

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. I agree with Owen that you are definitely very different from the rest of the food blogs in terms of both focus and writing. I love your tone of voice, and it's so very different from all the rest. And your pictures show the love and respect for your subject in ways that warm my heart.

You make a good point about limiting photos to breakfast & lunch. I've learned a lot from you on food photography through your art and our discussions. Thank you.


Glad to see you're back to visit!