The SF Chronicle raises the question of photographing meals in restaurants. (Via TFS) I've never been tempted to snap a picture of a plate while I'm out to dinner, but I appear to be in the minority. For me, would trumps should -- when I think about meals I have particularly enjoyed, I can't imagine how a picture of a dish could convey that. I suspect this is a function of both language and photography. Lacking a fork, I experience food through words, rather than images -- for instance, It's hard to imagine how pictures could add anything to MFKF or Liebling's adventures in France. Frequently, it seems to me that the photo functions as some sort of trophy of the meal. More generally, professional food photography, and its inevitable food stylists, has about as much to do with food as porngraphy has to do with sex, and thus the visual image distorts the experience.
Even if you have the skill to be the Helmut Newton of hash browns, it seems to me there are still good reasons not to photograph each course of a meal. Generally speaking, a meal is a social occasion, which involves implicit contracts with the other folks at the table, as well as the surrounding table. If I were out, especially at a special restaurant, I'd move from nonplussed to actively pissed off if one of my companions halted the flow of the meal to snap shots of each course. Also, and especially if there is a flash, it is disrespectful to fellow patrons. Dining rooms are for dining. Companions and fellow diners aside, it might not be the best thing for the person with the camera. I imagine that some of the other folks who write about food who read this have caught themselves trying to turn a meal into a post before the entrees were served. Transforming experience into representations instantly is a boon of our age, but also a trap. Yes, lady at whatever they call where the Giants play taking cameraphone pics of the tv monitor just after Barry Bonds hit #715, I am talking about you, not to mention folks talking on their cell phones and waving from behind home plate at Fenway to their friends back home. Compusively turning experiences into images or texts robs them of some of their value as experiences, I think.
Turning to could from should and would, Pim offers a defense of the shutterbug:
And they are vocal about their right to snap away. Though she tries to be sensitive to restaurants' concerns, Pim Techamuanvivit, who authors the well-known blog Chez Pim (chezpim.typepad.com), has no qualms about bringing her camera: "I'm entitled to take all the photographs because I paid to eat the meal."
I must respectfully dissent from Pim. Her own statement gives the reason: "I paid to eat the meal." Exactly. A restaurant meal is not an experience as much as it is a commodity, and the purveyors of the experience have the right to control it. Unless it is carryout, you do not own a meal on your plate in quite the same way that you own a brooch or a scarf. You are entitled to eat the meal because you paid for the meal.