Image Source contributor Sofie Delauw who runs The Curious Eater blog, shares fascinating insights into shooting food and ‘making things happen’.
There’s one marvellously revealing entry in Sofie Delauw’s client list – The Italian Consortium of Mozzarella. The fact there is an organisation dedicated to protecting the quality of the pillowy pods of cheese is a reassuring reminder that there are still people who see the value of craft. The fact that Sofie Delauw is the photographer is no surprise. Her photography is a reminder that food is all about the eye, it’s what we first taste food with.
She shoots food in extreme close-ups, odd perspectives, offbeat shapes that remind you these objects are not manufactured.
The clue to Delauw’s success is in the title of her blog; The Curious Eater. The day-to-day of earning a living means it’s easy to lose touch with our sense of curiosity. As an image-maker it’s easy to dismiss ‘soft-skills’ such as curiosity (and curiosity is a skill you can foster), they don’t help pay bills. But actually they do. Delauw tells a fascinating story about arriving in Italy and needing, in effect, to create a market for her work. She did some research, networking and relied on her passion for food to prise open some sort of opportunity. Her blog not only got popular, it became a calling card. “The blog has helped me to get better as a photographer, gain a lot of experience,” says Delauw. Photographing in difficult low light locations, fast pace, never really knowing what you are going to find, etc. It made me adaptable and resourceful.”
We spoke to Sofie to find out more:
A shot of a single object that expresses a powerful memory/event
I was shooting in a traditional Florentine trattoria for an editorial project on Tuscan food. This place is old style, timeless & packed with locals. Like many traditional eateries, it is only open for lunch. You will rarely find women here, but men who work in the neighborhood or who keep on coming here because they have eaten here for most of their lives. I saw this man as I was walking back from the kitchen … it’s an image that tells about old friendships, how men make business deals over lunch and old boy’s network. It’s a very strong social aspect of daily life. The wood paneling and the painting shows how ‘demode’ the place is … the men look modern, but certain things never change.
Three books that have inspired you?
Brassai: The Secret Paris
Edward Hopper: Silent Theater
Graphics photography manuals
Favorite photo you have taken?
Sometimes, you just get lucky as a photographer and capture a moment you could have never constructed. I was shooting a model outside a wine bar in Florence. I wanted to include the dog and his owner in the shot [they look great no?] … the dog kept on staring at my model’s panino with these hungry eyes that only dogs have. I love all the eye contact and expressions in this image … dog, Alessandro, Max [who is a local painter] and if you look closely, the man in the back.
Henri Cartier-Bresson: poetry, life, patience, human interaction and composition. He was a genius.
What do you see when you look at food? Texture? Shape? ‘Taste’?
I see color. Then I look for the best possible light and angle.
Do you use a food stylist? Or do much post-production?
Most of my food shoots are on location at restaurants or with producers. I do most styling myself [very simple] or together with the chef, client. I actually really enjoy setting up a scene. But I am also looking forward to work on assignments where there is a budget for stylist. Only in Italy, good stylists with a style I enjoy are not an easy find.
I do basic post-production to my images. For more complicated retouching I outsource to my assistant. The final look (color, contrast, etc), I do myself … for me that’s a big part of my photographic style.
You shoot a lot of chefs, what are the essential elements to getting an environmental portrait that reveals something about the subject?
I talk to people, spend time with them, gain their trust … I am not interested in a pose. I want to capture an emotion, a connection. I am a curious person … not just to ‘get the shot’, but I connect on a human level. I like to capture people who smile. I think we are designed to.
I usually also keep my camera ready, after I told people it’s a wrap. That’s usually the picture … when they relax and think it is over.
I like to shoot chefs in the kitchen … I think they feel most at easy when they are cooking. The light is often a problem, but for me the emotion is the priority.
You run a highly successful blog, has it got you work? How do you use it for your photography practice? For example do you try out different techniques or experiment with stories?
When I moved to Italy it was very difficult for me to find work. Also the print industry experienced great difficulty, and that’s where most of my (little) experience was.
I realized the worst thing for a photographer, is to not photograph. You lose your skill. I started thinking about what is available to me, and what I can add from my personality to my photography. I am curious, very social and I love to eat. I wanted to understand food in Tuscany; I started researching, and contacted places, networked. I was surprised by the positive reaction. A year later I am photographing all around Tuscany for a book that will be published in May next year. And I’ve been able to build up a strong network in and around Florence.
The blog has helped me to get better as a photographer, gain a lot of experience. Photographing in difficult low light locations, fast pace, never really knowing what you are going to find, etc. It made me adaptable and resourceful. Plus, I learned to speak Italian.
Could you tell us a little about the “Live In Italian On The Go” App project. It sounds like a mash-up of street-photography and advertising? Were there any requirements specific to the photos being used on an app?
This was my first big job in Italy: via Endemol Italia for San Pellegrino. I was so happy. I had to photograph around 30 different types of street food, but the budget did not allow travel. I had to find people in Florence to make me this food, friends would bring it back from their travels, etc. Funny they asked a Belgian photographer to shoot this very typical Italian subject.
All the images had to be horizontal, with human presence – hands, mouth … but people could not be recognizable, images could not look similar to one another.
We could have it seem like the models were always the same people, and there was no budget for professional models. After this assignment I owed my friends a lot of favours.
What are the current food magazines, blogs you look at?
Always be better then yesterday
See Sofie Delauw’s blog here