Image Source: David Cleveland. Edible Pop Art

Over the last decade  food photography has had to work a lot harder, moving from a world of functional ingredients to picturing a whole lifestyle. Photographer David Cleveland brings a range of influences from his broader lifestyle photography to shooting some rather delicious food pictures

David Cleveland shoots people, interiors, and still life with a crisp and cool sense of space, but what makes us salivate here on IMSO are his food photos. Food photos that make food look not just ‘tasty’ but desirable: food that looks scrumptiously edible: food images that are sculptural and graphic; and food images that tell stories of picnics, family dinners and candlelit romances. David Cleveland is an expert at capturing taste, mood and the iconic beauty of food. It’s a fascinating art.

With the food revolution over the last decade, the language of food stock pictures have changed as tastes in food and dining styles have become increasingly fluid. In its cycles and tastes, food has become more like fashion and food stock photos, which aim to capture the essential visual elements of a style or fashion, have recognisably shifted – colour, lighting, context.

Image Source: David Cleveland. Food Stock Photos and Interior Design

Looking at Cleveland’s interiors work for clients such as Elle Decoration, Harrods Magazine and Easy Living, you can see how it crosses over into his approach to food with arrangements and colour selection that makes food a culturally ‘tasteful’ object as much as it is appealing. In its composition, colour and arrangement it’s, something you want to decorate your table, as much as eat it. Browsing through his work on Image Source, his current work also ticks off a number of associated trends linking food with medicine and cosmetics, where certain kinds of food takes on a slightly different ‘image’ and context.

Image Source: David Cleveland Food Stock Photos as Beauty

IMSO: Can you tell us a little about your background, how you became a photographer, what was your training?

David Cleveland: 12 years ago I was working in an office for a shop in the Burlington Arcade and the company’s photographer who I was friends with, used come in to say I was wasted on that job as it was obvious to him I had a creative leaning. He forced me to go and assist him and the rest they say is history I guess?

IMSO: When did you decide to explore the genre of food photography?

David Cleveland: About three years into my assisting career (assisting interiors and still life photographers) which lasted for 5 years, I realised that so much of the work I was building up in my spare time for my portfolio was either still life, interiors or food so it was a genre that I just naturally felt comfortable doing really – put it this way I never wanted do do fashion?? A plate of food doesn’t talk back to you…well, it shouldn’t do?

Image Source: David Cleveland. Tactile Food Stock Photos

IMSO: Who were your heroes in Food images – photographers, painters, film-makers etc?

David Cleveland: As far as ‘foodie’ photogs go  – Mikkel Vang, Con Poulos and David Loftus. Why? Because they just make it look so effortless!

IMSO: How has Food photography changed in the last decade or so?

David Cleveland: I think the most obvious differences are that things are far more naturally lit and not as styled as they used to be. If I think back to my mum’s Robert Carrier books from the 1980s it was all overlit with tungsten light much of the time and each dish would be surrounded by all the raw ingredients that were used to make up the dish – in short, horrific!

Image Source: David Cleveland. Intense Color Contrast

IMSO: How important is context and ambience?

David Cleveland: Well it really depends on the job in hand and the brief from the client. Both are important but I think ambience is all-important and each photographer (in any field) is hired on the basis of the ambience they can achieve with his or her style.

Image Source: David Cleveland. The Geometry of Food

IMSO: The bright Mediterranean look was in fashion a while back, the trend seems a bit cooler now?

David Cleveland: Yes things are far cooler and more natural now – after all, this is England! People won’t be able to relate if it seems everything was shot in Santorini!?

IMSO: What is the most challenging food to shoot and why?

David Cleveland: Ice Cream, for obvious reasons or fizzy drinks – difficult to freeze-frame those bubbles you see so they end up looking flat!

IMSO: What kinds of uses are there for a food photo? For example, a family meal or people preparing a meal expresses ‘togetherness’, a couple sharing dinner signals ‘intimacy’, ‘pleasure’, what advertising sectors beyond ‘food’ has your work been shown?

David Cleveland: My work gets shown all over the place, especially the stock imagery. I think that food imagery can mean anything used in different contexts alongside different headlines and copy. I have had an image of a massive yummy cake used by a huge bank in their annual report before??

Image Source: David Cleveland. Cake design

IMSO: Are you shooting different kinds of food now?

David Cleveland: I shoot food for quite a few restaurants so it is incredibly varied what sorts of food I shoot from day to day.

IMSO: What has been your best experience on a food shoot?

David Cleveland: Best – Shooting the new afternoon tea menu for the Berkeley Hotel was pretty special – beautifully presented and particularly tasty! Worst – I suppose going to a pretty sleazy hotel in Slough and being asked to photograph a hamburger that had been cooked from frozen wasn’t a ‘career high’. I’ve had to shoot a kebab before with all the sauce on – take it from me it is impossible to make those things look good, let alone edible. ‘Each to their own’ I suppose!?

Image Source: David Cleveland. The classic Afternoon Tea

IMSO: Styled food is usually inedible and discarded after a shoot, but have you ever known someone to eat the styled food by accident?

David Cleveland:Yes…me! Sometimes it is very easy to forget that it isn’t for you to eat, it’s a primal instinct I think. Also, if you need to omit something from a shot and you are at that ‘critical moment’ and can’t move from behind the camera then your mouth is as good a place than any to discard the morsel!

IMSO: What’s your favourite food book?

David Cleveland: Mad Hungry by Lucinda Scala Quinn Photography by Mikel Vang – not exactly slimming but some scrumptious recipes in there!

IMSO: Is there any one food image that you would love to have the opportunity to take?

David Cleveland: Not really I’m happy with my lot so far. I would like to help Bill Granger out when he shoots his book in Oz by the sea…yes that would be nice!

IMSO: Photographer Lucas Allen shot an 8-page spread for Everyday Food magazine using the Hipstamatic app on his iPhone. Is this something you would consider, or a trend you see spreading?

David Cleveland: I think that the camera phone is an amazing and versatile thing and is superb for blog entries etc however I can’t see it necessarily becoming a prevalent tool for the higher end stuff? But like I say if this is what your client wants then I’d be happy to give it a go – it would save me from bringing ‘mountains of kit’ to the shoot wouldn’t it, so I’m in!

Image Source: David Cleveland. Food iconography

View David Cleveland’s Blog here:

View his collection of food stock photos at Image Source here


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