American Pie by Erin Eberhardt Chapman and Grace Wilson Løvig. Photographed by Andreas Wiking
The American Pie cookbook is a loveletter in pictures and recipes, from two American creatives, Erin Eberhardt Chapman and Grace Wilson Løvig to the food of their home country. The Denmark-based Erin and Grace tell us what prompted the book, the visual inspiration, and what makes great food photography
Flicking through the American Pie cookbook, I do understand that I don’t speak Danish, but my eyes are talking the visual language of food with my stomach. And if I could eat pictures, I would eat these ones. It’s the visual textures of the food, the handmade-homemade feel, the tone and colour of baking.
There’s the image of Ultimate Fudge Brownies and Blondie Bars shot by photographer Andreas Wiking in a silver tray on an old-fashioned weighing scales. The scenario isn’t clear, but the reflections and colour, the crumbs and nostalgia, the contrast of the biscuits side-by-side an express a simple kind of ‘contentment’. Wholesome, traditional choice in two little piles of generosity.
American Pie Cookbook was created by Erin Eberhardt Chapman and Grace Wilson Løvig, two Americans living in Denmark. Erin is the Creative Director at her Copenhagen-based design and advertising firm and is a partner in an organic food company. Grace owns and operates a Copenhagen-based production company and (full disclosure!) is an Art Director for Image Source. We asked Grace and Erin about the ideas and aesthetic behind this very tasty-looking book.
We all have projects we dream of doing, what made you commit to this and how long did it take to complete?
Grace: When I was in college I had romantic dreams of moving to a small remote cabin in Scotland and becoming a writer. My passion for food and cooking overtook that dream so then it was only natural that the goal become a cookbook. Both of us own and operate our own businesses and have full family lives. Life always gets in the way of our creative projects – but one night after a long dinner with Erin and many bottles of wine it all just clicked into place and seamlessly came to life. It took us a full year from the beginning-to-end – every free moment we had, evenings weekends, and holidays were spent on making this book come alive.
Erin: I grew up in a family whose lines between love and food were very blurry! At home, my favorite place to be is in the kitchen – or just pondering what I will cook, bake or attempt next. When I met Grace, we clicked immediately 1) because we were both Americans living in Denmark and 2) she loved cozy kitchen time as much as I did! We talked many times over a few years about how we could materialize our constant brainstorming/daydreaming whenever we were together and, as Grace mentions above, one night it all came together. As a Creative Director, I had already art directed and designed 6 previous books (4 of them cookbooks) for other authors, so I had an idea of what we’d need to prepare to visualize our ideas for possible publishers. That, as well as the time it takes to actually create a book – and a very visual book, no less. Although this time, I was also working with Grace on recipe development and the baking itself. We spent months collecting, testing, measuring… everything had to go from American measurements into European metric measurements. No small task! …but a fun journey nonetheless.
Who were your inspirations in terms of cookbooks and food imagery?
Grace: In terms of cookbooks I would have to say The Joy of Cooking – that is my food bible! I also get a lot of inspiration from River Cottage, Jamie Oliver and shopping at the farmers market. Fresh food and the change of seasons always inspires me in new ways to experiment with new flavors and combinations of foods. In terms of imagery, that was easy since there are so many inspiring and truly talented food photographers in Scandinavia. I have been working with so many fantastic food photographers over the years but we chose Andreas Wiking because we knew he would be able to find and interpret a style that was timeless but also modern. There’s nothing worse than opening a cookbook you have had on the shelf for a few years and seeing dated images. Cookbooks, both the images and the recipes, should last a lifetime.
Erin: I had worked with several great food photographers in Denmark – all with their own style of working – but Grace and I agreed on Andreas Wiking as I had worked with him on other projects and was so impressed with his subtle style and how he could make something so simple look so delicious. Additionally, he is a great food stylist and has a way to make food beautiful yet accessible – with natural lighting and out-of-the-box ideas on presentation – Andreas was THE guy! I also get a lot of my inspiration from contemporary outlets for food imagery and ideas – like blogs and foodie magazines like Bon Appetit, Living, Cooks Illustrated, Food & Wine, etc. and of course from traveling to new places.
The two of you have the perfect skillset combo for this – Cooks, Art Direction, Photography, Creative Direction. Did you use all these skills in the making of your book?
Grace: YES! Definitely! While we were acutely aware of the current trends, the shelf life, the marketability and who our target group was going to be. I would say that the creative process was something that just naturally happened along the way. Thankfully Erin and I have similar taste so our approach to food and design. Erin is extremely creative when it comes to design and conceptual thinking. I am extremely creative when it comes to designing recipes. And we both played an important role in the styling.
Erin: Agree! Everytime we met, we talked about what we liked in terms of photostyle, writing style, which recipes to go in the book, and so forth, and everytime we pretty much agreed on everything in terms of the direction we wanted to take. The production, design, photography, creative direction all came very natural to us, as it’s our “day job”. Once we sat down and made a concrete list of which “classic” American baked goodies we wanted to include, we literally went through the list and said “you take that one, I’ll take this one, you test that one, iIll test this one..”, so we could really share the experience of creating a book of recipes together.
Did you use a stylist? And it feels like it was shot in natural light?
Grace. Andreas Wiking is an exceptional photographer who also has a real talent for styling. But overall Erin and I knew what we were looking for so we did the styling ourselves. Many of the props are actually pieces from our own homes. There are old hand-written recipes from our grandmothers, cans and trinkets that we use in our homes for nostalgic decoration and baseballs and antique scooters that we have collected over the years. It was all baked and shot over 2 three-day periods in my home. I have large pane windows that allowed us to use natural light.
Erin: … and because Grace is a prop-aholic! That way we knew between my stuff, her stuff and all her extra stuff, we had a lot to work with. We knew we wanted to work with natural light, because overly lit food photos often feel too “plastic”. Andreas Wiking is a star at this particular style of shooting, and as we mentioned before, has great ideas on styling. However, we DID have a plan on what we wanted to use in the styling – flea market finds, cool family oddities – and then when we shot it, put our heads together with Andreas each time we had a new cookie or piece of pie to shoot, and made choices “on the spot” as to what to do. It was a very fun and spontaneous way to shoot all the food. Simultaneously, we had my husband, Brian, shooting both film for a short image film, as well as “fly-on-the-wall” photos, so we could get an almost “behind the scenes” feel directly in the book. No fancy facades here! Lastly, we used our own phones to take “how-to” photos at home and ran them through an app that makes the photos look like a polaroid. That was fun for Grace and I to be our own photographer and get in on the action as well. Modern technology is great!
The look and ingredients of Danish food is quite different to ‘American’ food, was this a factor in your style of shooting?
Grace: Yes. Traditionally Danish food is bland and colorless. Of course that no longer holds true with the creation of Noma and the high-end food culture in Denmark that has taken the world by storm. But yes, I guess without actually giving it any specific thought our images reflect our aesthetic taste. American food has many layers, just like the country itself. It is rich and full of flavor and we wanted to capture that feeling in the images.
Erin: Absolutely. We wanted to create the absolute best feeling of “home” in our photos, since this was a book that was about American food, but for a European audience. Often in Scandinavia, food is photographed very minimilistic and very “perfect” and is a bit more untouchable. We wanted to capture an inviting, hip, modern approach while remaining cozy and down to earth – and at times with a bit of cheeky humor. Americana at its best!
There is a ‘nostalgia’ trend in photography but these images also feel very contemporary?
Grace: We threw a bit of the nostalgia trend in the book. You can see that we used the polaroids as a way to blend, if you will, the “nostalgic” props and traditional recipes with contemporary, timeless photographs of the food. We were very aware that we were making this book for a culture that is unfamiliar with some of these foods and the way they are prepared so it was important to really show what the end product looks like. I think that this mixture of old and new lends itself to a book that you never get tired of looking at or using.
Erin: As this was a collection of American classics, we knew we wanted to capture a mood that was truly engaging and fun, and sprinkled with a bit of nostalgia that even our European readers could relate to. We wanted them to feel like they were stepping into “Erin & Grace’s world” – into our lives and homes. We also wanted to inspire with ways to package pies, cookies and cakes, so that our readers could share with their neighbors, of course.
Which foods presented the biggest challenge in terms of shooting?
Grace: Ice cream and chocolate. They are very challenging to execute in natural light. You also have to work fast since your product is changing every minute you are shooting.
Erin: Agreed! It’s also a challenge to do all the baking AND style and art direct everything yourselves, too. Baking takes time – it’s not like working with raw veggies and fruits – or even a fish or pasta dish that can be whipped up in 20-30 minutes. I literally had to bake all night long for 2 of the nights, so that I could get my recipes ready to take over to Grace’s house, and then work with Andreas shooting and styling during the day, while Grace was simultaneously baking in her kitchen all the while. Ovens were going 24-7! It was an extremely intense few days – with a lot of sugar highs and lows!
What are the three things a photographer shooting contemporary food photography needs to know?
Grace: 1. Less is more: let the food speak for itself. In other words, style the food but don’t over-style it to the point that the viewer has no idea what he is looking at. You have to feed the eyes in order to feed the soul. 2. Lighting, lighting, lighting! Do your homework and make sure the lighting is not creating hard lines or shadows.Theres nothing worse than a beautifully composed plate of food that has bad lighting. 3. Shoot RAW so you keep the detail of the product. You’ll have a lot more flexibility when playing with the images on your computer.
Erin: Have fun. Food photos don’t have to be stuffy and cold. Textures are important in the styling to make it more inviting. Lastly: capture a “moment” if possible – like when the ice cream just is dripping off the pie, the cake is just about to be served, or cookie just got bitten into. Make the food feel like you can smell it and can almost reach out and grab it. My favorite food photos make me feel something, whether it’s happy, nostalgic, inspired… or hungry!