When my camera was stolen from my bag in Northern Peru, I remember consoling myself that I was a writer and that if I were worth my salt, I would be capable of describing scenes as well as if I had taken pictures. When I started food blogging, this came to the forefront as I dimly clicked away, armed with a C minus in high school photography and a camera I bought more for the relationship between its waterproofness and my klutziness than for the quality of the pictures. I began to write a food blog because of its perfect location at the intersection of culinary pleasure and the art of sharing experiences with others through the written word.
Two and a half years later, as I wander about, restaurant to restaurant, party to party enjoying my time amongst the Fooderati, I eat meal after meal where I try to dive in head first and am gently reminded to wait until the click, click, click has finished its logging of the meal. It doesn’t bother me–I’m not of the mind that my food will be any less good for the two extra minutes it has sat. And yet, I get defensive when people ask me why I don’t take pictures myself. My reasoning is simple, no picture will record the experience, the pleasure, to breathe in the smells, to admire each color, to trap that taste in the mouth for long enough to take that mental picture. Not a two dimensional one, but one that is three, four, even five dimensions as I describe the layers of flavor, the hint of spice on the tip of my tongue, how I feel about corn off the cob–and how that feeling changes as I put a second bite into my mouth.
Unfortunately over the course of this blog, I have faced the realities of food blogging and realized that my words alone are not keeping readers, and as I cook at home I have taken pictures. They have greatly improved (God help the sucker who looks at my early photos in the archives), as I learned about lighting and light boxes, angles, props and white balancing. I am not, though, and never will be, a photographer. I will continue to make the most vivid pictures of food in my readers brain through the words that I write, by bringing them on a trip through the brain as it eats, what makes that bite so good, this one so bad, an experience so transcendent. I may not be a photographer, but there is nothing I love more than creating a post that burns an image into the mind.
The single photograph that remains most vivid in my brain from that trip to Peru is not from the photos I had saved before the theft, nor from the camera I bought months later at a black market. Rather, it is the picture I most mourned the loss of with the loss of my camera: Jaimie, a juggling unicyclist who I had met in the hallways of my jail-like hostel. He told me of his dream to attend circus school in Arizona and told me I could take a picture if I promised to send it to him via e-mail. For ten minutes he struggled to stay atop the unicycle in that cold, gray hallway, finally, he did it, just long enough for me to snap the perfect picture, a triumphant smile on his face as his eyes followed the juggling balls into the air.