Should restaurants ban 'food porn' photos?

Should restaurants ban 'food porn' photos?
'Greg photographs his food.' Flickr/Robyn Lee

Citing distractions that violate the aura of fine dining, some N.Y. restaurateurs are banning so-called food porn -- photographs that diners snap of their meals on their smart phones -- CBS New York reports.

photographing food

'Greg photographs his food.' Flickr/Robyn Lee

It should go without saying that restaurant owners ought to get to set the rules for their own establishments, and if they want to post signs to the effect of "No shirt, no shoes, photographing -- no service," that's their right and it's not necessarily censorship.

But one wonders what Roland Barthes, the French literary critic, would say about the phenomenon if he was alive today. Barthes' influential 1967 essay, "The Death of the Author," sought to sever the public consumption of a work of art -- or a "text" -- from the artist's interpretation, or the "authorial intent."

Barthes was essentially questioning the common belief that an artist still gets to "own" her or his work even after it has been served up to the public. Authors should have no such monopoly on the meaning of their works, Barthes argued, and that perspective now has proponents in many art history departments and museums throughout the world.

CBS quotes "pop culture expert" Adam Hanft, who said that food porn banning restaurant owners or chefs might fear malicious Photoshopping. "Somebody doesn’t like a restaurant, somebody has a grudge against the restaurant, they can manipulate the food," he told CBS.

So this struggle seems to boil down to control of the aesthetic experience of the food. Some restaurant owners seem to worry about diners manipulating photos, although it's worth noting that the photos that appear on menus very often appear to be manipulated, or at least artificially made to look more appealing.

On the other hand, perhaps when the food is placed in front of the customer, it has really transferred owners -- no matter how romantic, eating at a restaurant is a business deal, after all -- and the new owner may be free to photograph (and manipulate) as he or she sees fit.

If you have an experience at a Chicago restaurant with food photography -- whether good or bad -- please share it in the comments.

Filed under: Censorship

Tags: Roland Barthes

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