Like all trends, the retro food photography aesthetic is all the rage. I decided to put my own spin on it and took inspiration from the food, culture and aesthetic of the civil rights movement in 1960s America.

I hope you enjoy this retro food photography series as much as I did creating them. If you’d like to see more of my food and drink photography please see my full portfolio here.

The creative concept

I took inspiration from the book turned film The Help by Kathryn Stockett and The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. Both books were set in early 1960s America, roughly during the time of second-wave feminism. My interest in retro food history and women’s rights meant this series was right up my street.

I specifically chose to deviate from the popular retro food aesthetic that’s all over Instagram (namely, the velvet, curtains, rich colours, sparkles). Instead, I chose to use my signature muted pastel colour palette and juxtapose it with hard light. I was also interested in combining patterns and textures, which was common for the time.

Devilled eggs

serving devilled eggs on platter

Nothing says retro food like devilled eggs. There’s a scene in The Help where the main protagonist Aibileen makes devilled eggs for her boss Ms. Hilly. She makes a separate, special platter of the eggs for Ms. Hilly, and doesn’t let her friend Minnie eat from it. In my mind it signified the importance of perfection and keeping up appearance for the middle class housewives of the 60s.

I researched the colours, textures and patterns prevalent in the time and found a lot of lace, retro floral patterns and gingham. Mixing materials and patterns brought elements of kitsch, which worked well for this retro food photography series.

platter of devilled eggs on blue gingham tablecloth

A lot of the retro food photography I’ve come across use richer tones and metallics. In addition to the pastel colours, I used a mixture of textures and patterns for my props and backdrops to give it that hint of kitsch.

Southern fried chicken, beans and mash

vegan southern fried chicken meal

Nothing says Southern cooking like fried chicken, right?

It was crucial to style the food in a neat and clean way – like the sections you get in a TV dinner. Having the distinct segregation of the food components was also a representation of the events happening at that point in history.

southern food picnic

Minny’s chocolate pie

I couldn’t do a retro food photography series without referencing Minny’s chocolate pie. Made purely with chocolate, obviously!

I balanced the busyness of the composition with a subtly textured background and props.

southern food dinner party

I hope you enjoyed this retro food photography series. All the images here were photographed and styled by me. If you liked this and would like to see more of my food photography series, please check out my Pantone colour of the year series and my Food photography on a budget series.

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