It’s a joy to be published in Art Culinaire Magazine, issue #119
Back in January this year I was heading to London for three days of shooting for Art Culinaire Magazine. I was going to meet up with the owners Carol Newman and Lars Ryssdal after they’d flown over from California and we’d tackle the shoots together. Prior to this, I’d only communicated to Carol via email, but we seemed to hit it off from the start. I was really looking forward to this photographic adventure.
You won’t find Art Culinaire at your local newsagent or book store in the UK, which is a great pity in one respect. In another, it’s such a beautiful publication it’s hard to see how it would fit in on the shelves with weekly mags. I know I’m making it sound snobby, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. They simply celebrate the culinary arts like few other publications and I have a soft spot for any celebration of excellence.
The main readership, I believe, is the chefs and restaurateurs themselves. There are libraries across the U.S. who have full collections of Art Culinaire as well as many chefs. I was very surprised and humbled, when out of thousands of photographers in the UK, I received an email from Carol, asking if I would like to work with them on issue 119. Errrrr HELL YEAH!!!
We met for the first time at Gail’s Artisan Bakery, Portobello Road. Carol walked in, spotted me right away and it seemed to me, she was smiling for the whole three days from that point. It was a joy to actually meet after all the online back and forth and I hadn’t a chance to connect with Lars at all until this point. They handed me a copy of Art Culinaire as I hadn’t actually seen a copy until today. Immediately I was impressed by the quality and the images were seriously impressive. That set the tone for the next three days. Up against some of the best food and restaurant photographers in the world, with my new clients watching me do what I do, warts and all 🙂
Day one: The Ledbury
First up was a chef with an outstanding reputation, Brett Graham at his restaurant The Ledbury, which is still the best meal Mr.T says she’s ever had. Brett welcomed us in the dining room. Introductions were made and Brett was telling us more about him and his passions for game and venison. The first deer he shot is mounted on the dark and narrow stairwell leading to the kitchens below. A stairwell I became rather well acquainted with for the portrait of Brett and his Head Chef Greg Austin. After all, a portrait of Brett without this key icon of his career was too good not to shoot.
We set up at the front of the dining room, where huge windows bathed the room with butter soft light. Even on this cloudy day, there’s plenty of directional light to serve me well. White tablecloths gave me the clean background to begin to see how this shoot was going to play out. The food was going to pop as long as the huge light source didn’t wash out all my delicious shadows.
As the dishes were presented to us, Chef Graham was on hand to explain all the components and tell the back story of the ingredients. I overheard some of the conversations but I was zoned into the photography. Shooting tethered to my laptop, I glanced across at the screen every few shots, just to make sure exposure was to my liking and the old thunder thumbs hadn’t twirled dials and totally set my exposure miles out.
The occasional murmur of “oh that’s nice” “I like that one” gave me the feeling I was barking up the right tree. Models often talk about how they dislike a silent photographer, who doesn’t giving them feedback. “Am I giving them what they need? How am I doing?” It’s not too dissimilar for me on this kind of shoot. A deafening silence is always a little unsettling. Usually, my head springs up from behind the camera with a quizzical and slightly surprised look. “Happy?” “Oh yes, lovely that” “Ahh, good. anything you’d like me to change?” and so the shoot plays out.
Popping down to the kitchen for a few different shots, which is one of my favourite places, it’s like the engine room of a big ship. Hot, steamy, all sorts of activities going on and everyone knowing what is expected of them. I grabbed some shots of the inner workings of The Ledbury before getting to know the stairwell rather more than I’d expected.
Head crammed into the corner of the stairwell, gangling long legs just trying to find a way to stabilise me and yet not be in the wide shot. Bounced light from a single Speedlite on camera to lift the chefs from this very dark interior. Then keeping the top on the deer’s antlers in the frame all while writhing around on the floor “like a porn star” is how the chefs laughingly described me, if I remember correctly. The jibes, writhing and head jamming, were all worth it when I see this portrait printed in full-page glory. It’s what I love about my job.
Day two: Typing Room
It wasn’t until later in day two that we were shooting at the Typing Room, Bethnal Green with Chef Lee Westcott. We ended up meeting up early at Paradise Garage, also in Bethnal Green which you’ll remember I shot a little while ago, owned by Chef Robin Gill, who was our third chef of the trio. There were some things to work out but while we were at Paradise, Head Chef Simon Woodrow took very good care of us. In fact, it was this day Carol and Lars were introduced to the Salted Cod with Squid Ink dish you see on the front cover of AC119.
Taking a short tube ride to central London we hung out in Selfridges, checking out the wares. I hadn’t been in here since my shoot with the Oxford Blue team. To be honest, I almost felt like an official Londoner, guiding my guests around the big city. Anyone who knows me knows that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Returning to Bethnal Green for our 3 pm shoot, we were ready for action. Just as well, Lee Westcott likes to work and think really fast.
As you may be aware, London in January isn’t known for it’s bright and sunny evenings. The light was beginning to fade as we arrived. No fear!! I bring my own sunshine. A term I first remember hearing from amazing Vancouver photographer, Kent Kallberg, who I had the pleasure of assisting on a couple of shoots, in what feels like a lifetime ago now. Speedlites, Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe and we have sunshiiiiine…. On a cloooooudy day….. When it’s cold outsiiiiiiide… I’ve got the month of May… Oh com’on, you heard it too, didn’t you? It happens.. 🙂 Thank goodness for YouTube!
Stunning dishes came flying from the kitchen. I was dancing around the light shooting fast and loose. Eyeing up the dish the moment it was in view, figuring out how I was going to shoot it and get the angles we needed. My laptop flashing up the images as I captured them. Carol watching as they ripped from my camera in front of her eyes. I’m glancing to pick up any input regarding what she wanted more of this or less of that. In the midst of all the dishes, Lee would need to have his portrait taken…..
Lee Westcott hates his portrait taking he told me, “I never like the shots photographers get of me” Music to my ears. I felt Lee would like a darker moodier feel to a portrait. Repositioning the Ezybox and adjusting the height for a portrait, feathered the light so I was just using the back edge of the light, close in for maximum fall off, and monochrome conversion in camera. A couple of shots to dial in the light and were ready to rock. Normally I’d have this set up with a test subject but the shoot was moving at a good pace, so sometimes you have to move pretty fast.
The first couple of shots I had Lee facing more toward the light, in the traditional way. Turns out his photo side is his right side, turn the shoulders, even more drama. The black and white pop onto the screen. “Oh, yeah, I like that,” says Lee. BOOM!!! Fired off a couple more shots to make sure we got it and some varying expressions. Then we got back to the food to capture the last couple of dishes.
Lee really wanted to use the black and white shot I’d just taken, so I went about getting an alternative shot for AC. If we created something they preferred then he could use it. It was the very end of the shoot. The light was gone, and the glow from the street lights was beginning to shine in from outside. The Typing room has a wonderful open kitchen which we couldn’t leave before capturing some of it. I asked Lee to stand on the pass while I very quickly set up the same light, this time to get an environmental portrait. Chef in his kitchen. It was going to be a bit posed which isn’t how I usually capture chefs. There had to be something else to make it stand out. It would be the light. I used the flash duration to make sure I got a sharp image. I wrote another post about this. Using flash to get sharp photos in restaurant photography. If you’re curious, pop over and take a look how I get it sharp, hand held at 1/15 second shutter speed.
That was that. Lee had to head off to another commitment and evening service. We had what we needed in the bag. A good day.
Day 3: The Dairy
Like coming home for me when it comes to restaurants. This is where it all started for me, asking Chef Robin Gill to put his new restaurant in front of my lens. It’s always a great day when I get to shoot with Robin and his team. Even better working with my new clients and friends at Art Culinaire.
Robin was his usual upbeat, let’s have some fun with this, way he is. We were setting up at the back of The Dairy, so it was a case of bringing my own sunshine set up, once again. Robin, Carol and Lars discussed the dishes as they came in from the busy Dairy kitchen, while I zoned in for the final assignment.
I’ve written about the very special vibe and atmosphere, the secret sauce if you like, that Robin and Sarah Gill have created in their restaurants. It’s infectious in the most wonderful way. I could see Carol and Lars were feeling it. Is it the building, the fun-filled, dedicated team, the Irish accent. I dunno, but it works a bloomin treat. It was going to be an awesome end to our London adventure.
We captured the dishes, the elements and I hope, some of their personality. I heard little comments of, that’d make a great cover shot. More music to my ear’oles. Just keep shooting JT. Venison, Pear and Artichoke with Truffle. Beef Tartar and Rock Oysters. It’s a foodists heaven this job.
The Art Culinaire kids couldn’t leave without taking a look at the rooftop garden, even if it wasn’t at it’s best. That’s when Robin and I decided on the back wall location for his portrait. While Chef returned to his busy kitchen I got my light setup for the portrait. Dark and a bit moody, this time for AC119. Carol reluctantly stood in for Robin while I dial in the flash and exposure to suit. Uneasily moving about as the lens looked deep into her soul like it was the eye of a Dalek. We, humans, are funny when you point a camera lens at us.
Robin stepped out for the shot, we quickly worked through some crops and a couple of looks before he had to dive off back to his Dairy folks. That was that. Assignment complete and the close of one of my most favourite photographic adventures. Three outstanding chefs, dozens of gloriously stunning plates of food, some fun times with my other love, portraits and a new wonderful business relationship, moreover, new friends.
So you can see why having so much of my work published in issue Art Culinaire 119, means a great deal to me. To have the cover shot, on my first shoot with them, is more than I could wish for. The hugely talented Chefs who will read about this and see my photography. The very same Chefs who’s stories I want to tell, show off their plated passions and create a portrait of substance. Even writing this, I feel the emotion of the end of this chapter, yet eager and excited for the next time I head out my door with another addition of Art Culinaire, foremost in my thoughts.
Thank you, Carol, Lars and all of the Art Culinaire team for sharing our adventures with your readers. If this gives anyone a bit of an appetite for what they do at Art Culinaire please subscribe to your quarterly, joy of cooking. As #120 is just around the corner, and it’s an anniversary edition, you don’t want to miss that one, join the club of culinary giants.
Until next time…