Thursday, April 10
An Open Letter to Bon Appetit
Dear Bon Appetit,
You were always the slightly too precious one showing up in my mailbox every month, with your muffin basket aesthetic and heavily sauced prose. But I knew that about you, and I looked past your affectations for ideas. Presentation ideas. Ingredient ideas. I'm happy you want to cast off that tired image, but I think the baby and the bathwater may be traveling as a couple right now. Month after month since you've changed, I've been considering your new you, and so here are my thoughts.
First, a magazine is not a website. Seems like an obvious point. But how else to explain why you've adopted these overbearing teardrop and slash motifs throughout your pages? Unlike a website, where visual cues help you keep the site "tree" in your head, magazines don't have that problem to solve. That's the beauty of magazines. They're not linked: you just keep turning pages, and eventually you'll run out. So I don't need those teardrop tokens like a breadcrumb trail to help me find my way...I already know where I'm going (to the next page).
Second, let's talk about the new look of your pictures. I admit that food photograhy often suffers from being overly shiny, posed and polished, but it should at least pique your imagination if not make you downright hungry. But food photography shouldn't just be food porn, made to be consumed only by the eye. There should be information packed in. Like how to present ingredients elegantly.
I've noticed recently you're trying for more graphic, bolder food styling and photos. But making plates of food into decomposed, two-dimensional color smears isn't working. These types of images may look good when I squint hard at their high contrast, over saturated flatness, but when I look carefully they look like someone vomited on the plate, however artfully. I would never arrange my food that way to present it to people who I expect to eat it. And it doesn't help me the next time I'm trying to plate something.
Finally, I get the sense that your art directors are running amok with Adobe InDesign, which is a powerful tool indeed. Bubble type, helvetica with no leading, and microscopic font sizes may work on high res screens in evenly lit offices, but they don't work in print. Your pages are looking dense, and your layouts are reaching for retro hipness that can only work when irony fills the air like smoke in a Berlin lounge. Food magazines like you, Bon Appetit, can be many things, but ironic doesn't make it to that list.
I know you're experimenting, and I applaud it, but I don't think it's working yet. I'm still loyal, so I'm waiting patiently for you to get over your mid-life crisis.
Yours Truly, Benjamin