Driven by a passion for photography and a realization of the absence of awards dedicated to food photography, Caroline Kenyon founded the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year competition in 2011. In this interview, Caroline shares the profound impact of food as a universal storyteller, transcending boundaries of wealth, age, and background.
What inspired you to create the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year competition back in 2011, and how has the journey been since then?
I have a love of photography going back years to when I edited a travel magazine in London. Later, I set up a PR agency specialising in food so I commissioned a great deal of photography for clients. Then, at 12, my son also became very serious about photography so we always went to see Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum. In 2011, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking, ''Why are there no awards for food photography?'' It’s been an incredible, life-changing journey for me and my team. We are now part of a global family of entrants, judges, sponsors, and partners. It is a very joyful collaboration.
The competition has received well over 100,000 entries from almost 100 countries. How does it feel to see such global participation, and what impact do you think the competition has had on the world of food photography?
It makes us so happy to see images coming in from around the world and, indeed, it is very humbling to think that someone is sitting in Guatemala or Georgia or Genoa, going through their photos and deciding what to enter into the Awards. Our entrants tell us that entering the Awards does great things for them, it has made them feel food photography is important. And being shortlisted, let alone a Finalist or a Winner can change their life.
The Awards cover a wide range of categories, showcasing diverse food stories. Can you share some memorable or unique entries that have stood out to you over the years?
That is rather like being asked, which of your children do you love most?! I do remember many, many images. One was a black and white shot of a beautiful small boy with a huge empty metal dish on his head. One of the shortlisting judges and I had a big debate, she really did not like it. But it went on to come second in its category, Politics of Food. Another one I remember was called Green Beans - a magical depiction of beans that showed their velvety texture and made them into something from another world.
What challenges and joys have you encountered while promoting food photography as an important art form through this competition?
I think the challenge we had in the early years was that we were seen as ‘the new kid on the block’ of international photography awards. But now we are in our 13th year and, to our pleasure, very much respected. We have wonderful feedback from our entrants and a lot of that is due to the very personal response and care they get from my team. For example, my colleague Kathleen is up for almost 48 hours straight before we close to entries, personally answering every anxious email and phone call to make sure she can help the photographer upload their images. While Georgia, who looks after all our comms, always shares press coverage with the featured photographer and ensures they are tagged in posts, so that they continue to benefit from having entered the Awards, even if it’s a few years later.
How do you believe the competition has contributed to giving recognition to the vibrant sector of food photography?
In a number of ways - firstly, by sharing the images with a distinguished global panel of judges. Then, by showing a huge shortlist (over 800) in a beautiful online gallery, followed by the stunning in-person exhibition of Finalist images (at the prestigious Royal Photographic Society for three years, returning to the world-renowned Mall Galleries this June). And the press coverage each year is monumental - it starts immediately after the winners are announced and does not stop for weeks. Then, throughout the year, there are all sorts of other promotional opportunities - we were thrilled just before Christmas that British Airways created a dedicated channel for 10 galleries of images from the Awards to delight their long-haul passengers inflight.
The mission of the competition is to showcase food stories from around the world, capturing both the beauty and drama of food. Can you elaborate on how food serves as a powerful subject in photography?
Food is completely unifying. Whether you are wealthy or poor, old or young, we all need to eat. It’s a subject so rich in culture, history, politics and resonance, I can’t think of another subject that tells so many stories about people of every age, background anywhere in the world.
The competition is open to both professional and amateur photographers. How do you think this inclusive approach has enriched the diversity of entries and perspectives?
It was very important for us when we started the Awards for them to be open to all. I see photography as the most democratic of art forms, especially since the development of the mobile phone, many of which have fantastic cameras. Some of our entrants are keen hobbyists, who are then encouraged by their success in the Awards to turn pro, which is wonderful. Professional photographers often set such an exceptional standard that it raises the game for the amateur. I think they can all learn and gain from each other.
As the founder, what are your hopes and aspirations for the future of the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year competition?
Always growth! I truly hope it will still be running in 50 years' time. Who knows what food and farming might look like then? And I would love to have the beautiful exhibition shown in many more countries.
How does the collaboration with Action Against Hunger contribute to raising awareness about life-threatening hunger and the importance of intervention?
The category we created for Action Against Hunger is called On the Phone, for images taken on mobiles. I think the ease and immediacy of taking photos with your phone has allowed us to talk about hunger and aid in a very accessible way. The partnership is very precious to us and we are proud to have raised thousands of pounds for the charity over the years.
A sincere thank you to Caroline Kenyon for graciously unraveling the profound narratives behind Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year, showcasing the global tapestry of culinary tales and highlighting the unifying power of food through the art of photography.