Published September 8th 2020

599 emptied plates


Everybody shoots colorful and stylish images of delicious meals and posts them online. I ate the meals and photographed the empty plates

On Instagram
There’s an image concept called foodies or #foodies as they are tagged on Instagram, Facebook and other social media. Sometimes it's more aptly dubbed #foodporn, because that's basically what it is. Much like porn in relation to sex between normal people, the relation between food porn and the meals you and I eat is totally screwed.

Foodies or food porn is mainly pictures of food before it's eaten. Delicious looking food. Usually shot before it's been touched at all, often in restaurants or kitchens, but also commonly shot in beautiful setups, meticulously lighted, carefully composed and often lavishly presented. Sometimes the food isn't even eaten afterwards, because the whole purpose of presenting it is for the photo. It's not rare that it's boosted with a mist of water to make it look moist and delicious, or painted with some shiny or colored substance to give the illusion of a crust or a roasted surface.

The whole idea is to make the food look as good as possible, and it’s certainly not your average mash and gravy that's considered Insta-worthy and in the end harvests the likes. Ordinary food doesn’t score many points. Foodies are often pictures of gourmet meals, stacked high, trimmed and adjusted and sumptuously decorated with colorful dabs in the form of flowers, tiny legumes, sauces and sprinkles.
It’s often shot in high key, almost overexposed, colors are saturated, depth of field is shallow and although many of the images look slightly casual, they are mostly very elaborately worked through.

I have to admit that I kinda like these images. It’s pretty stylish to look at, and being an avid cook myself, I like looking at food.

At the same time #foodporn and #foodies are getting a little tired. You can only handle so many burgers, so many salads and so many Asian inspired stir fries with perfectly colorful veggies. Once you have seen enough, they simply run together in a blur.

Back in 2014 I decided to do something different. In stead of #foodies I started shooting #eaties. The concept was simple: once I had eaten a meal, I’d shoot the empty plate on the table in front of me. I’d do absolutely nothing to make it look good – as if that’s possible with a plate after a meal – and it would be shot straight down from above, using available light and showing the whole plate in all its gut wrenching glory. In porn terms it's like taking pictures of the wet stain on the sheet. Not exactly arousing!
Leftovers, napkins, bones, pits, toothpicks and whatnot would be included. I’d try to get as many different meals in as many different locations, but they all had to be meals I had eaten myself.

It didn’t exactly go viral or create a world spanning trend.

I shot the first on in August 2014 and posted in on Instagram. I created the account eaten_meals, and the following years I posted 599 empty plates. The last one was uploaded in September 2019.
It didn’t exactly go viral or create a world spanning trend.
At its peak the account had about 20 followers, and an image might gain 2-3-4 likes, while many gained none. 8 would be through the ceiling, and I have one post which gathered a whopping 9 likes! Still a bit of way to go to the most likes Instagram post ever with its 53+ million likes.
Commenting was equally skinny, and I think the comments can be counted on one hand… maybe two, and most were just like “Yum” or “Yummy” – which the pictures most definitely weren’t!

I shot the images with what I had at hand. Mostly my phone, but sometimes a "real" camera. I had a few dogmas, which were:

  • change nothing. It looks as it looks – oftentimes pretty disgusting.
  • use available light. I did use the phone flash a few times.
  • shoot from above, flat and straight on.
  • get as much in the picture as possible – plate, cutlery, cups, glasses – but as little as possible unrelated to the meal.

On paper in a book
I uploaded the images to Instagram and described them and tagged them as you’re supposed to, essentially describing a tasty meal and its contents. But the image was nothing like the description.
The last image was number 599 (not 600 as said on Instagram), and I halted my odyssey in 2019, and haven’t had any reactions since then - other than loosing a few followers.

I have now gathered them all here, in a local gallery, where you can feast your eyes on a lot of what I ate in a period from 2014 to 2019 - or rather what was left on the plate when I had eaten it. The images are kinda mesmerizing in their own boring, monotonous, repetitive way. They might look much the same, but there's a surprising variety in colors, things to look at, other items such as books, magazines, papers, computers and so. It's a kind of demonstration of how different meals actually can be. Some are just a lunch at home, even just an espresso and some chocolate, while some are eating with friends, and others are from cafes and restaurants.

I have also started preparing a book with the images. No, not a coffee table style art book, but just a small paperback for my own sake. I like doing these small print-on-demand books with my images, and have done so before with my "Misses" series. So soon you can buy my @eaten_meals on Blurb, if you want something really strange and different.