Here’s what you need to know first. We live in a time when “instagrammability” is built into a restaurant’s framework. Tables are placed near large windows so that each dish is naturally “instaworthy,” tabletops are designed based on their texture and color, and matte plates are chosen in order to reduce glare (the list goes on). As ridiculous as this might seem, it makes sense when you consider the numbers:
2.5 billion people around the world have the equivalent of a camera in hand, at all times. This means that every minute we take more photos than all of those taken in the 150 years prior to the digital age (Pirelli).
Instagram influencers are often the sole reason a restaurant succeeds. Black Tap Burger never had hours-long lines twisting around SoHo blocks, a BuzzFeed story with over 2 million views, and a feature on ABC’s “The Chew”, until a few influencers posted photos of their Black Tap Burger milkshakes (Ruiz).
The world of social media marketing has taken advantage of this medium. Participatory media has become a leading force in driving content and commerce. Photographs aren’t just taken and hung on the wall anymore, they are edited and recontextualized to appeal to a specific desire of the masses. But that is not to say that users don’t desire authenticity. Take for example Snapchat – a platform predicated on capturing authentic moments. Snapchat is a mammoth of a platform, growing nearly twofold since 2014, boasting over 80 billion views per day, and becoming one the most valuable venture-backed companies in the world (Bloomberg). And recently, Instagram has attempted to mimic this approach with their Stories application. All of this suggests an audience that is fighting to find a space to go and forget, to consign to oblivion.
Of the numerous types of Instagram influencers out there, those that promote food reflect this common social media struggle of juggling the authentic and inauthentic image. And in order to become a Foodstagram influencer, you must be aware of this banded division.
Therefore there are two “Instaculinary” schools to choose from: the (1) highly stylized (inauthentic), or the (2) minimally stylized (authentic). As you can see from the graph below you can amass a large following in either category.
What can we take away from this:
The success of these two schools reflects the flux of a desire to be both authentic and inauthentic in an a Instagram-saturated world. Today we are less likely to be moved by an image – the pervasiveness of the image renders itself meaningless. And despite their persistence, images have succeed in isolating us. So although connection is omnipresent, isolation is as well.
All this being said, it is OKAY to style food. It has been going on forever. Food and art go way back (Vermeer). Food and storytelling go way back (The Last Supper). And, more than anything, the diversity in styles reflects the modern human condition. Roland Barthes famously describes photography as just that – a “trap for reality.”