Creative Food Photography Inspiration: Peden + Munk

NY-based photographer/director duo Taylor Peden and Jen Munkvold – otherwise known as Peden + Munk – shoot an visually appealing blend of food and lifestyle photography that sets itself well apart from the monotonous pre-set mediocrity of so much self-aware creative food photography.

Creative food photography by photographers Peden and Munk

Strong composition, a great sense of color, appropriate lighting, and tasty, wholesome food: the ingredients that make up genuinely creative food photography are surprisingly simple

While many middling photographers go for the lazy saccharine highs and diabetes-inducing close-ups of the mainstream culinary fair, Peden + Munk instead concentrates on food made as nature intended it: simple ingredients skillfully combined. The food is earthy, rustic and real; and comes served on plates to match. These are dishes that are genuinely appetizing, without resorting to the lazy pop-appeal of a cheap sugar rush or mainline grease-injection.

The above is of course largely a question of food styling, and for all we know may be more down to the caliber of commissions the duo receives rather than testimony to their own talent for artistic direction. Yet there’s a similarly wholesome simplicity evident on the photographic side of things too. Indeed, while invariably stylish, well-framed, and demonstrating an excellent awareness of color, this is genuinely creative food photography that derives much of it’s strength from nothing more complicated than the flattering depiction of life’s simpler pleasures.

Example of awesome creative food photography by Peden + Munk

Good food, simply prepared

In fact, if food photography could ever be described as deadpan, then this is probably it. While always stimulating to look at, the pair reject both the kitsch-romanticism and heavy-handed retouching techniques employed in so much food photography, approaching their subjects in a manner that could almost be described as phenomenological: the-food-in-itself.

Despite – or perhaps precisely because of – this, their photographs frequently transmit flashes of taste, touch, and even temperature to the well-tuned viewer. Indeed their work clearly demonstrates that the pair possess an evolved sensibility to the tactile and sensorial. This sensibility also extends to their use of light: whether it be intense sunshine or, more frequently, the diffused and indirect light of leafy shade, Peden+ Munk’s photographs are always nicely-lit.

An example of Peden and Munk's creative food photography

Peden + Munk excel at creating alluring visual narratives

The duo also have a good eye for creating striking visual juxtapositions, combining images of food in various stages of preparation with coincidental and environmental “cut-aways” that help to suggest an intriguing narrative beyond the plate.

An example of the creation of narrative in creative food photography

Peden + Munk’s series Oaxaca starts off very strong

However, while several series of photos start off in a clearly well thought out and varied order, some edits then inexplicably go on to assume ever increasingly random-looking groupings as they progress – as if the photographers lacked either the sufficient time or concentration to see the process through to termination.

On occasion, a sequence will even disintegrate into an order that appears to owe more to the chronological numbering of file names than to narrative intent or artistic vision. As for example is the case with the series Oaxaca, where several graphic shots of cacti have been unceremoniously dumped at the end – as if only an afterthought to the more traditional creative food photography that came earlier.

A strong example of creative food photography

Peden + Munk’s talent for casting and sequencing makes for intriguing visual narratives

Although undoubtedly there’s always some risk that the editorial lifestyle imagery of this kind will veer a little too close to stock photo territory to remain truly credible, to their credit Peden + Munk succeed in evading the worst of these pitfalls. So while there are plenty of shots of impossibly stylish groups of “creative types” relaxing in various secret outdoor idylls, we’re given none of the threadbare clichés that many less-talented photographers instinctively fall back on when depicting such scenes. Indeed the beautiful people who inhabit Peden + Munk’s world are of an altogether more convincing and sympathetic kind than the one-dimensional punch-out hipsters of standard “aspirational” lifestyle photography.

Some might query whether Peden + Munk can really be considered food photographers at all. But it’s not easy to see how such a question adds anything of value to the conversation. They take photos; many of which contain food. Either you like their photos, or you don’t. And here at Best Food Photography we definitely fall into the former of these two categories. Certainly, we would much sooner see some more of their lively and stylish culinary-themed visual narratives than yet another identical bit of food-photography-by-numbers.

While much so-called creative food photography is often anything but creative, Peden + Munk can claim the title with considerable justification.

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