The Monday after Thanksgiving can be a rough one, just trying to get back into work mode after an extended weekend. Tonight, I am very grateful for leftovers…..
Hope you had a wonderful Holiday!
There is something that appeals to me about printy kitchen tablecloths from the mid century. Every household must have had them, so many still to be found: fruits & florals, kitchen tools & stylized designs, special tablecloths to celebrate every season and holiday. The happy colorful patterns evoke simpler times when the kitchen table was also the dining table, and family meals were shared on an everyday basis.
I’m not an avid collector. I have a small group of printed tablecloths in my prop linens, but rarely use them as they can be really strong and upstage the food subject in the photo. During a recent shoot for Ina Pinkey’s cookbook, however, the tablecloths worked into the shots perfectly.
Photographer Stephen Hamilton asked me to breakfast at Ina’s to discuss the shoot in advance. The restaurant and menu is a great source of personal pride for Ina, she is there daily and has a devoted clientele that she knows by name. The dining room in Ina’s is warm and unpretentious, white tablecloths covered with paper ( a great canvas for the little artists as they wait for breakfast), and kitschy salt and pepper shakers on each table. There are more shakers filling shelves behind the counter, Ina’s collection keeps growing as customers bring her new additions. No cellphones allowed here, it’s all about enjoying food and company.
For years Ina has willingly shared her delicious recipes with customers, and decided it was time to combine the recipes with her personal memories. We really wanted the book to be a reflection of both Ina’s restaurant and her personality. Which brings me back to the tablecloths! For this project, they just seemed to fit. Softening the patterns with the paper still lets the food be hero and the copy to overprint nicely, and they were right at home with her cherished shaker collection. Best of all, I think the tablecloths carry through the warm nostalgia that Ina’s book, Taste Memories, is all about.
Taste Memories will be available very soon at Ina’s, and online. These amazing recipes are tried and true, straight from her menu and just the way they have been served in the restaurant for 22 years. Soon after the photography was completed, Ina announced that she will be closing Ina’s and retiring. I join all her fans and friends in wishing her the very best! You can read more about the cookbook, and preview some of the recipes. in the latest edition of Who’s Hungry?
During my recent prop excursions, I’ve noticed an increasing amount of tabletop and kitchenware based on vintage designs and materials. By now you all know how I gravitate towards all the naturally created character imperfections in used vintage pieces, but I realize not everyone shares the same passion. Certainly not every commercial client I work with, who can get a bit uncomfortable showing their food product on a stained cutting board or chippy plate!
|European Bread Peels|
|Reclaimed Wood Serving Board|
|White Enamel Baking Pans|
|Enamel Milk Pan|
Enamelware, too is showing up in all forms and finishes. Here is a nice set of baking pans in the traditional white with dark rim style. Crow Canyon manufactures an amazing array of enamelware in solid and splatterware designs, everything from utensils to bakeware to cake pedestals.
|Vintage Striped Chambray Linens|
I recently purchased these vintage inspired chambray linens, and they are wonderful to work with on set. The linen fabric is a great quality that will only improve with washing, drapes beautifully and I love the soft faded colors.
|Vintage Style Wire Trivet|
|French Wire Inspired Cooling Rack|
|Vintage Inspired Wireware|
Vintage wire cooling racks are also being reproduced in retail markets. There are many new ones available based on european wireware designs. So if the aging is not something you are looking for, there are some good choices out there that still function as great baking props for a much lower price than older wire pieces. I have offered many authentic antique wire baking racks through my Etsy shop, and have seen similar pieces being sold as vintage so be cautious when a piece is too pristine. In fact, that is good advice when looking for any vintage kitchenalia with reproductions becoming more trendy!
Happy shopping, enjoy the links!
I bought this old cabinet a few years back, an absolute steal that I couldn’t pass up. It was a good 7 feet tall, and quite spacious inside, and I thought it would make fine storage for my props. The problem was the shelves were spaced very far apart, it was too deep, and a little on the wobbly side. I ended up having to pile props in large stacks, and unpile everytime I needed something from the bottom.
The cabinet seemed to be constructed of assorted woods, and I imagined it to be a make-do linen closet fashioned out of necessity for storage. Far from a piece of fine antique furniture, or professional cabinetry, yet it held a certain charm. But after a few years I decided it needed to be replaced with more functional shelving, but would harvest all the old wood to create surfaces for my photo projects.
The doors were nicely paneled, so I just removed the hinges. Then I carefully tore the entire cabinet apart, removing every nail as I went along. It took a few hours, but I ended up with a HUGE stack of aged wood. I don’t consider much of it to be “camera ready”, so I have enough projects to last me through the winter, for sure! But I did get a few tackled that I can share with you.
The back of the cabinet was created of old tongue in groove, which I cut in half and then re-assembled into a long “wall”. The wood already had great patina, but I wanted to deepen it slightly. So I sanded the panel by hand (you can see how it takes the gloss down and opens the wood surface) and rubbed in a rich red stain.
The side panels of the cabinet were the longest pieces, lots of great character as seen above. I debated cutting them but decided against it as there are times a really long table surface is needed. So I used an orbital sander to clean the boards a bit, and applied a few coats of Danish dark walnut oil. It really brought out the varied tones in the old wood.
In the end, it’s all about the look on camera, and the results were exactly what I was I hoping for. Old wood has a depth to it, with all the scars and discoloration from years of use and abuse. The subtleties come alive in the beautiful light, adding dimension without distraction. Here’s the end result from the tongue and groove wall
And the side panels which became the table surface:
Who knows where the rest of the cabinet will turn up?!
The garden is finally giving back. After months of watering and waiting, there are new and delicious fruits and veggies to be picked daily. The colors and textures of the backyard harvest can’t help but inspire a shot or two.
The fresh flavors are so true, so intensely good that they need little enhancement, just something snipped from the herb garden. Slice, chop, mix, done. Simple, cool eating in the hot summer: Cantaloupe and watermelon tossed with mint, vibrant tomatoes with basil, cilantro for a crisp cucumber salad.
Having a garden is also great incentive to experiment with new dishes. We have so many pumpkin blossoms that I think I’ll try this recipe for Mexican Pumpkin Flower Soup.
When the pumpkins fully ripen in weeks to come, I have plans to make pumpkin butter. I was generously gifted with a copy of The Preservation Kitchen from Chicago photographer Jeff Kauck, the amazing talent behind the images in the book. Chef Paul Virant’s recipes for preserving are wonderful to start, then he guides you through using them as a basis for other recipes and seasonal menus. I am a less than accomplished cook myself, but there are many recipes within the book I know I can handle. The Pumpkin Butter (using roasted pumpkin) is definitely on my make list, along with the Fried Green Tomatoes with Basil Mayonnaise and the Tomato Jam to make use of the bumper crop I see coming. But today, a few of these gorgeous cantaloupes are destined for the Vanilla Melon Jam recipe
Can there be a better way to make the summer last?
If you are a regular reader of Still*Life~Style, you have undoubtedly admired some of the images I have styled for food photographer Stephen Hamilton. Stephen is a true master of lighting, with the exceptional talent to create intimate images that are the benchmark for capturing taste appeal through food photography. In fact, this add says it all:
On that note, I am encouraging you to be a little naughty today, and take a peek at Stephen’s first issue of WHO’S HUNGRY? the online magazine. I was extremely excited to style this early spring edition, and can tell you first hand that everything Stephen does, he does well. In support to the stunning images, you will find special recipes like this one for the Violette cocktail served at The Aviary
And feature articles, such as one on mustard, inspired by Stephen’s recent work in Napa
The magazine also takes you behind the scenes for a look at life in a top food photography studio. I’m in the WHO’S HUNGRY? Stylist’s Corner this issue, challenged by Stephen to bring spring moss to the table. Stop by and see what I came up with, without using moss at all!
After a recent shoot, a group of us met for a light dinner and cocktails. It’s always great to socialize outside the studio, the work day can be intense with little time to catch up. The funny thing is, undoubtedly the conversation turns back to some aspect of food. We are like the parents enjoying a night away from the kids, who can’t seem to stop talking about the kids.
For many of my colleagues, food has a strong presence in their personal time as well. Just as I enjoy the relentless search for new prop inspirations, many people that I work with have passions related to their role in food photography.
Photographer Justin Paris is a perfect example. An incredibly talented food and still life shooter, (earlier this year I showed you some of the images we shot together in this post), Justin and his wife Andrea have a deep commitment to the farm to table movement. His blog, alimental prologue, is an intimate look at the farms just beyond this sprawling city. As so many of you are also of like mind about the food you consume, I asked Justin about their dedication to this way of eating, and the path it has led him down.
SLS: Justin, when did you first become involved with local food?
A decade ago my wife and I spent a few years living in northern California. Our entire food world changed there. We had access to foods that were previously unknown to us. We had fruit trees in our backyard, we planted a garden, I was vegetarian for a period of time. Our food philosophy has grown and evolved since then but that’s really when it began for us.
SLS: How challenging has it been to stay on track with the decision to eat local?
That depends on how you emphasize it. I think that it is important for us all to make changes in our lives that will not only better our own quality of life, but also those around us, especially our children. However, in making changes I have always believed that it’s a gradual process that takes many steps. You just can’t abandon everything at once and you can’t ignore the world that we live in. You can’t just give up all fossil fuels in a day or retrofit your house tomorrow to become “greener”. It’s not an achievable goal. It’s all about minimizing and moderation. The same is true with eating local. We have always been concerned about the foods that we eat. That was a foundation laid by our parents and for them by their parents. Because of that, our cabinets and fridge have never been filled with lots of processed foods. But they were still there and some still are. We just took a look at the types of foods that we were eating, where we were sourcing them, and changed what made the most sense for us. We still buy pretzels and tortilla chips, canned beans and tomatoes, avocados and citrus, cashews and coffee, and juice boxes for our little boys. But the kitchen is mostly just filled with ingredients now. When you get to that point, it really becomes easier to source locally. It will never be as convenient as grocery store shopping but it does become easier. We just threw a party for 30 family members at our home. The menu was four homemade soups and three homemade breads. We planned seasonally and sourced as much as possible from our local farmers but the reality of the menu made it necessary to shop at a conventional grocery store as well. We could easily get the meats, butter, flour, eggs, popcorn, fruits and vegetables that we needed from the farmers market. But we needed yeast, salt, lentils, beans, and lots of broths. It’s a process. Our approach has been to do as much as we can as often as possible. And in all honesty it’s the quality of the food keeps bringing us back.
SLS: What’s going into your garden next year?
I am so excited for the next growing season. This year we grew some things that we had not in the past and realized that we needed more space to grow all the things we want. I just finished adding almost 200 square feet of vegetable beds. With luck we will be planting in half of that next season and the rest by the following year. We also added a huge wildflower garden. Combined we managed to remove over 500 square feet of grass from our yard. This season I rescued and planted two blueberry bushes and next year we will transplant raspberries from my in-laws’ yard. The current plan is for chard, kale, carrots, garlic, onions, basil, thyme, oregano, cilantro, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, jalapenos, poblanos, eggplant, broccoli, and maybe watermelon. Our oldest son loves planting, watering and harvesting and our little one will be trying some of those things for the first time. It’s almost silly how excited I am about it.
SLS: As I read alimental prologue, I sense a very deep and genuine respect for the people who work the farms and fields you visit. What insight have you gained about their way of life?
I am so glad to hear that that comes through to the viewer. I go to these farms to create images but I also want to tell a story. Over the past year I have spent a lot of time at markets and farms just talking to the producers. Every one wants to talk about what they do. They’re all proud of their processes, their successes, and even their failures. Growing food is not easy. And making a living at it is even harder. You can see that on a farmer’s face. But you can also see how much they love doing it. It’s important for them that they do. Farming is in their soul. I don’t think you see that kind of dedication just anywhere. How can you not want to support that? These are good people doing good things. And working really damn hard for not much monetary reward.
SLS: As a society we tend to disconnect with where our food comes from. Thoughts about the livestock farms?
As a species we do a lot of things that don’t make sense. It doesn’t matter what we are talking about, it’s not specific to our food system. We never fix the core problem we just come up with solutions to solve the short-term issue. It’s sad. Commercial feedlots serve our insatiable appetite for meat. They were the short-term solution. The core issue is how we view consumption and waste. But tackling that won’t make a corporation wealthier. The thing that I love about sourcing our meat locally – which we now do exclusively – is that the farmers that raise these animals really care about how it’s done. Sure, they need to make a profit, but never at the cost of compromising their philosophies on health, sustainability, and animal welfare. When the philosophy is most important, the result is a far superior product.
SLS: You always come away with such beautiful shots. What kind of reaction do you get from the farmers when they view the images?
My hope is that they value my work in the same way that I value theirs. So far the results have been positive.
SLS: What is the personal mission behind your blog?
I really wanted to make beautiful images. There never was a plan to blog. It all began as a personal assignment to build a catalogue of farm photography. But after my first trip to Hasselmann Family Farm the whole motive changed. It became about knowledge and understanding. And about sharing. It suddenly switched over to personal motivation rather than business motivation. It’s still certainly applicable to my photography business but the motivation has become much more philosophical. The whole process has made me feel more complete as a person.
SLS: Thank you, Justin, for taking time out to share your thoughts and photography. We’ll be following you through the farms and fields on alimental prologue!
I’ll be introducing you to more of the amazing people I am fortunate to have as co-workers and friends. They are truly a source of daily inspiration.
I don’t really have a favorite color, but blue has never been high on the list. There is not a room in my house with even a hint of blue. Lately, though, it has been showing up more in my styling and props. I have been craving certain blues, winter blues, intense and sometimes odd shades that have a richness on camera.
There’s hints of it showing up in some of my more rustic pottery and wood backgrounds, splashes of blue glazes,paints and stains that play against weathered browns and grays. Washes of blue in hammered,transparent and frosted glass pieces.
Blue is the reason I bought this silly vintage dog glass, I guess.
It has me looking at props that I normally would pass up, busy antique patterns to explore. Flow blue,cobalt,indigo, woad… blues so deep they look forest green or black in certain light. They are all on my radar these days.
I’ve been experimenting with different tones and layering blues with teal and black.
Found these in my vintage fabric stash. Funky Japanese print cotton and this intense blue fabric that is not quite cheesecloth and not quite tulle netting. It is kind of interesting over another surface & tone, adds another dimension. I’ll have to come back to this later!
In the end, color can be a powerful propping element when it is in the right light and setting. What color is your world these days?
On Camera with Photographer Chris Cassidy: from the deep blue sea
It has occurred to me that we have moved from one season to another since the last time I was able to post here! Time seems to move so quickly, the days melt from one into another, and soon a week has gone by, then a month. Then two months. Is it like that for you, too?
It’s serious catch up time now and I have some interesting things in the works for this blog, so please stay tuned as I try to get back on track. I’ve found some great props and surfaces to show you, and have been adding new items to the Still*Life~Style shop. Thanks to all of you who have stopped by Etsy! I must say it is very exciting to see some of my prop finds making their way into my favorite blogs, blending seamlessly into each photographers’ personal style and vision. Here are some perfect examples that you may have already been admiring:
Helene Dujardin’s Roasted Pepper and Ricotta Tart, recipe in this recent post on Tartelette, those wonderful veggie colors popping off a SLS rustic cutting board. Looks great layered on her paint smudged wood surface.
Celine Steen and I share the same weakness for vintage paper straws, small jars and simple bottles. I always come away from have cake, will travel with a great recipe and a good laugh!
Meeta Wolff was able to incorporate lots of the props I sent for the Plate to Page Weimar workshop into her posts at What’s for Lunch, Honey? I think the shots look wonderful, she has such a great feel for color placement! By the way, Meeta and team are currently into their second workshop in Tuscany and working on putting together number three in the UK. You can follow them here, and check out the post I wrote for them about commercial photo assignments.
Hope to have more of these images to share with you soon. I have had some very talented prop stylists come through the shop, and it’s always interesting to see how other stylists “see” the props differently. New things are always coming my way (I shop a lot faster than I post, evidently!), contact me through my website at chicagophotostylist.com for prop sourcing requests.
Recently, Sylvie of Gourmande in the Kitchen asked me to do a post on prop styling as part of her Language of Photography series. It is one of my favorite blogs for so many reasons, so of course I happily accepted! Both Sylvie & I have been asked on numerous occasions just how we go about selecting props, and where we draw our inspiration from. I came up with a list of suggestions to help channel the process. This can be especially challenging if you are new to food photography, but believe me, everyone hits a creative dry spot now & then, much like writer’s block.
The thoughts I’ve posted on Gourmande in the Kitchen in my guest post focus on building a set around a chosen prop, using more unconventional food presentations, and storytelling. I’d like to finish up here with another approach, using the elements of art and design. Sylvie covered this in her second post of the series, highlighting these elements used compositionally. I’ve chosen some of my portfolio images where the props add a strong element of art to the image.
In terms of styling, it is a more abstract thought process than the others I’ve suggested.
Photographer: Stephen Hamilton
Color: everyone knows by now that white on white creates a clean canvas that makes food color pop. You can use color to do the same thing, if it is well chosen and the proper hue, as in the above image.
This is an intense color palette, but both food and prop elements stay within the same color families to unify the shot and still make it comfortable to look at despite all the patterns of food and props.
Photographer: Jennifer Marx
Form, shape, space: the shapes of the props are very clean and simple, a great contrast to the organic forms in the salad. The position of the fork is dramatic, but works because of the weight of the marble plate.
Photographer: Stephen Hamilton
Texture: the photographer and I wanted to play up the spiciness of this Bloody Mary. There is a layering of coarse texture in the pepper, wood cutting board and background, and the linen towel.
Photographer: Michael Maes
Line: the pan and knife both have very strong straight lines, which provide visual contrast to the softer lines of the tart and rolled parchment paper.
Photographer: Stephen Hamilton
Movement:We shot this dough a few different ways, with and without the linen. The design element changes from shape to movement with the addition of the fabric, and it becomes a more dynamic image.
Photographer: Stephen Hamilton
Balance: Even though the upper portion of the photo has more propping, the image feels well balanced. This is due in part to the strong line of the cutting board, and the shadow that breaks up the negative space.
Photographer: Stephen Hamilton
Proportion and scale: the bite size brownies below maintain their sense of scale because I’ve chosen props of standard proportions. Had I put them on a tiny plate with a small spoon and cup, the small size would not be evident.
Photographer: Tate Hunt for Studioside/Publications International
Pattern: the embossed repetitive lines of the pie pan create a framework for the focal point of the shot, the spoon and berries.
Photographer: Justin B. Paris
Truthfully, it is rare that I consciously think about the elements of design. I have learned to trust my eye and can usually feel when something is working, or when something is not quite right. Selecting the images for this post reminded me of how I draw on these principals every day. They are to essential to prop selection, styling and composition and the foundation to keeping the focus on the food. Learn them, and they will serve you well!