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C Food – Food Photography taken to the next level

A while ago I wrote about some tricks food photographers use to make the final dish more appealing. As you can tell from some of my less than stellar shots, I make the dishes I blog about and try to present it as you’d see it. While this sometimes inadvertently supports my tagline, “Real food. Real life. It ain’t always pretty,” even with my good shots, I find a kind of sameness creeps into my work.  Different soup, different bowl, same angle. Sigh..

So when I had the chance to speak with Robert Clark and Harry Kambolis, co-authors of C Food (Whitecap Books, 2009), I found myself in the odd position of wanting to talk about photography, not food.

Based on the sustainable seafood dishes from their Vancouver restaurant, C, executive chef Robert Clark and owner Harry Kambolis took an usual approach to photography to inspire readers. They ignored conventional plating and presented their dishes — all fully edible — in ways that merged food with art.  While the recipes are straight forward, by pushing the styling so far from the finished dish, Clark says they hope to remove the anxiety of reproducing a recipe and free up the reader to create a dish that’s their own.

With the help of photographer Hamid Attie, known for his innovative use of light, the three collaborated to produce a cookbook worthy of any coffee table. The results? Luminous photographs with an architectural quality.

While the photos are riveting, the dedication of Clark, Kambolis and Attie is nothing short of awe-inspiring. They actually shot two books. The first used a standard white backdrop. Unsatisfied they redid the book with black two years later. Why black? It’s the colour of the sea and makes the food jump out more.

Even with the drama of black and light, the photography was sometime a challenge. They almost gave up on what eventually became the cover shot. Over the course of two days, they argued, shot, reshot and re-reshot the photo. In frustration, Clark grabbed the lemon and wedged it between the fish pieces. The shot finally worked. “I hate displays with lemon and parsley,” he says.

You won’t find parsley or white china in the pages of C Food. What you will find are dramatic, exquisitely composed photographs like these…

To get the light to flow through, they cut out sections of the shell.

Fennel Consomme suspended on a sheet of gelatin. After a half hour of shooting, the consomme sunk slightly, which looked better than the planned shot sitting flat on the surface.

Dungeness Crab sitting atop a glowing melon slice.

Wine Lollipops

Kambolis says they have two more books planned. It’s hard to believe they will be able to top this creatively.

I’m not about to copy their style, but books like this inspire me to go beyond the standard plated shots. I’m now ready to throw out the advice of “use only natural light” — although that will take a bit of experimentation, so be patient.  What inspires you? What books or photographers you admire and why?


All photos taken by Hamid Attie. Published with permission of Whitecap books.

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0 Responses to C Food – Food Photography taken to the next level

  1. Cheryl@5secondrule January 5, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    Truly stunning photographs. And wine lollipops?! Just when I thought I’d seen it all…

    I wish I had resources to share about what inspires me photographically, but I’m just as eager as you to learn more. I’ve flipped through Annie Leibovitz’s books, and Ansel Adams’, but as I do neither portraiture nor nature/mountain photog. I don’t necessarily feel I learn new techniques. (I do love looking at their photos, though — obviously.)

    Great post. Truly captivating.
    .-= Cheryl@5secondrule´s last blog ..Open =-.

    • Charmian Christie January 5, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

      Sometimes I find looking at art outside one’s field (like Leibovitz and Adams) can free up some of my thinking — colour, light, placement, feel. And sometimes, it’s just a nice break!

      Glad you like the photos. I am eager to play more with light.

  2. Cheryl Arkison January 5, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    I can tell you what does not inspire – the shots in the December Bon Appetit. Yikes, I hate food as landscape. Sort of like those beef ads that have been in print lately.

    I’m only getting into photography myself. I find the best thing for me right now is simply surfing and seeing what other people are doing. It certainly helps with angles and styling ideas. One photograph at a time…

    C is a fantastic restaurant. They do fish so well, and can make a lovely martini.
    .-= Cheryl Arkison´s last blog ..Death By Food – Not Quite =-.

    • Charmian Christie January 5, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

      You’ve eat at C? I’m jealous.

      Food as landscape? Sometimes it works with fruit and vegetables, but it can be creepy. The worst cover I’ve ever seen featured a single sprout of asparagus growing in the field. It was so blatantly phallic I laughed out loud. Don’t think this was the editor’s intent but it goes down in my books as the worst food cover ever.

  3. Kristina@FormerChef January 5, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

    Beautiful photos. I see them as “art” and not necessarily inspiration for something I’d like to eat.
    I’m with you on the drudgery of the sameness of shots, and I look for inspiration where ever I can find it. I do like my food shots to look a little more “real life” too but that’s only a personal preference.
    .-= Kristina@FormerChef´s last blog ..Kick-Ass Homemade Bloody Mary Mix =-.

    • Charmian Christie January 5, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

      These photos are definitely art. I was struck by the use of light and lines. While they didn’t leave me hungry for food, they did leave me hungry for a more creative approach, so maybe my “real life” shots can be a little more lively.

  4. Robin Smart January 5, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    I agree that these photo’s are great art. Lovely to see and admire but they don’t make me hungry. They actually terrify me – what if I had to try to make food look like that or use the food shown in them? My photographers eye loves them, but not my taste buds.
    Good thing I didn’t write back on my resolutions as I broke both in fine style today. I was trying to cut back on chocolate consumption and not get stressed by drivers who don’t know a green light means go. Oh well, I was good while I was asleep.
    Cheers,
    Robin

    • Charmian Christie January 5, 2010 at 6:24 pm #

      Don’t panic. The recipe for fennel consomme doesn’t say “suspend on a sheet of gelatin”. Honest.

      I did love that this was such a fresh take on food. I can’t tell you how bored I get of the 3/4 shot over a bowl of soup. Yes, it’s nice, but it’s been done a billion times.

      And one should never resolve to cut back on chocolate. The thought alone produces so much stress your body will crave it immediately. Simply let the post-Christmas supply run out. And restock with less vigor, being sure to keep a stash in the glove compartment for those drivers who are colour blind. There. That’s better, isn’t it?

  5. Maryke January 7, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

    While the photos you posted were esthetically pleasing (in the sense of art), I quite like your own photos of the food you make, Charmian. It IS “Real Food”, and is generally quite “pretty”….. not to mention enticing! In trying to decide what I might wish to make from a recipe book, I am very influenced by “Real Food” look of the photographs. Not sure if anyone else feels the way I do, but that’s my “two cents worth”.

    • Charmian Christie January 8, 2010 at 1:22 pm #

      Thanks, Maryke. I appreciate your input. I’m not about to attempt these art shots myself. I just found them refreshing and intriguing. I really admire the creativity that went into the concept — not to mention the execution.

      I’ll still do my “real food” shots. I really like to see what a finished dish looks like when I try a new recipe, myself, so you are not alone!

  6. deana@lostpastremembered January 8, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    They transcend food photographs like Weston did…. thanks for sharing the really extraordinary photos
    .-= deana@lostpastremembered´s last blog ..The Epicurean’s Chickens a la Nantaise Sauted =-.

    • Charmian Christie January 8, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

      Well put, Deanna. I might never be able to produce work like this, but I am so glad to see people pushing the boundaries. I wonder where food photography will go in the next decade?

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