This past weekend Jim and I took a quick overnight down to Philadelphia. We’ve only had the chance to go to Philly a couple of times, but have always found it an interesting and approachable city with some great restaurants both new and old.
As our trip was winding down this time, we were sitting at a new bar for a quick brunch/lunch stop before heading home. We shared a great bloody mary ceviche and then decided to have a pizza, topped off with an egg/speck/fontina – a pretty classic breakfast pie. It was a super tasty stop so far – the pizza ended up being one of the best bites of the trip, quite honestly – so, I took a quick photo before we dug in.
I realized after I took the shot that it had been pretty much my only photo of the trip.
It was a funny moment of realization from a couple of different viewpoints.
From one side, I feel like our life has gotten a bit more private since our social media outlets – Instagram, Facebook, twitter and the like – no longer document our adventures as “restaurant people” and just as us. There is less of an impetus on our part to share every bite and every visit because it isn’t so much shaping an idea of who “we” are as the owners of local spots.
Part of me sees myself reaching less for our phones at every meal – partly because without the need to create a “brand” for ourselves, I take more time to engage in what I am doing. Entire meals go by – delicious ones no less! – with not a photo snapped.
From the other side, without meals, trips, and some adventures being part of creating that “brand” or that representation of who “we” are as those people, I seem to have become more discerning of what makes it into my photos.
It wasn’t a bad trip by any means. But, what is remarkable, is that there were 4 other restaurant/bar stops prior to that fateful pizza shot. They were all very “instagram-able” with perfectly plated tapas, special local brews in divey taco joints, velvet roped bars with secret upstairs dens, and more. But, the reality was none of it was great.
But I had to ask myself – if this trip had been a year ago, when I was still “that restaurant woman” would I have taken tons of shots along the way – good, bad or indifferent.
The whole internal dialogue then went into overdrive with the last stop of the trip. After that lunch we decided to stop at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens – a public art space created by a local mosaic artist. The “museum” was once a vacant lot that the artist took over and created giant walls of mosaics with twists, turns, and tiny rooms all covered in discarded pottery, tiny hand made tiles, doll heads, and so much more.
As we walked around the space we had to wait several times for young couples to finish with their posing and photos. One girl was hanging upside down in the doorway to an underground space as her boyfriend snapped away. Another girl made up like a 50’s pinup was splayed across a sweeping staircase. A third scaled a small wall and seemingly ignored the camera as her partner took a video of sorts.
It was frustrating.
Then, this morning I was reading an article by Bijan Stephen on Eater. They are doing a series on the death of chain restaurants, and this particular piece was a discussion on the accusation that millennials are to blame.
As part of his argument, he noted, “The idea is to experience, and be seen having that experience; the value proposition is in your ‘grams location tag, because it signifies you’re living The Good Life – or, at least, the modern version there of…”.
It’s a very loaded statement. For the view of the piece, he is essentially arguing that millennials have no real interest in what food tastes like, or whether some event or visit or location is truly “interesting” – it’s just how it “looks” or is perceived, or how it – in truth – storyboards.
And although I am not a millennial – that ship has certainly sailed – it is a fairly accurate criticism that I can apply to my former “restaurant” self. I did eat my food. I did enjoy my trips. But, I certainly was focused on how they looked and how I could share them as a part of the brand that was “us.”
But, I am not willing to hang this on the head of millennials. There are plenty of bloggers of all ages promoting locations, trips, products and more based solely on their photos. What is the hot spot? Where does their selfie look best? What cache is there in wearing, eating, or being seen there?
As restaurant owners we saw it every night. Flashes going off in the dining room, or outside the Toute, or even in the bathrooms – wherever the lighting was right, or the plate had “the look” that they were going for. And, it is hard, as a business owner or a chef, to not want to engage – it’s free publicity if nothing else.
But as a chef I never cooked for the camera. I wanted delicious plates, it wasn’t about what the photos would look like – it was about what each bite tasted like.
If I wasn’t willing to make my work about the camera, why then was I willing to let photos be such a part of the rest of my life?
It makes you ask yourself which is best – the beautiful life recorded for posterity, or, the life engaged, with or without photos? Where is the balance?
I guess we will just have to see. xo Andrea