cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Infamous Cutter Board...

Plate-less Cover Shots: naked, bare, and simple

Dear reader, yet another weekend gone by and no crazy dessert recipe proposal for you. Accept my sincerest apologies please. My week of final exams starts now, and it randomly happens to coincide with more photo shoots for my job than i thought humanly possible. Two cover shoots and five field assignments this weekend alone. Aiya. Are you telling me to study? D stands for Degree you know. So i thought i would take this flourless opportunity to attack the quandary that has been plaguing my mind for some weeks now: the question of the cutter board in food photography--when, how, and why to use it. So if you give a crap, read on!

First i must make mention and give a shout-out (Rockefeller Plaza style) to chef and photographer Matt Wright who writes his Seattle based blog over at WrightFood, and who undoubtedly has got some mad skilz with cutter board posed shots. As he is big on meat, seafood, and Asian influenced cuisine, when i was assigned a cover shoot for a fancy pants Asian Bistro downtown Coeur d'Alene; he was the first inspiration on the back of my mind. Meat + seafood + cutter board = bueno. Mr. Wright also suggested the parchment paper tip that turned out vital to these shots. Thanks Matt, these are for you.

Idaho Cuisine? You thought I worked for Spokane Sizzle? I do. They are owned by the same publisher. One and the my book at least. Eastern Washington, Idaho, what's the difference? (don't pay attention to the words on the cover--they are just mock up space savers so they can see what it "might" look like. hehe.) Before the meat and fish lens molestation, i shot a cover for a natural foods market. Vegetable and herbs, what star models. Aiya. The crowd (let me just vent) around this shoot was the most enervating group of neck breathers to date. I knew the owner would be trouble, as the look he gave when i arrived with my boss (remember, im just about 23 years old) was a bit smirkish, and when my boss (J) bragged that i was "just about to graduate" he replied--from where? me--Gonzaga, he--Prep? (Gonzaga Preparatory is an equally over-priced Catholic high school in the area) me--no University. Do I look like i'm 17? He--hmmmm. If i hadn't needed all of my fingers to operate aperture and lens there would have been one digit sent quite vertical toward his direction. But i just smiled. Forget and forgive. Anyways, i asked if i could have a cutter board (in my mind i wanted to practice for the next shoot the following day) they actually obliged. Go figure.

I will tell you that during the entire shoot he was grumpy and anxious, "you're not doing what i want, are you done yet? can i play now?" I had to just ignore and look him square and say--please, you have to trust me. Trust. Me. Ok? Ok. Now cut that beet in half for me please and back off , you're giving me a tumor. When we left i could tell he was displeased--it's just an accepted fact that client hates photographer until they see the thumbnail proofs. Was that the case here? yes. Open mouth insert foot? Yes. Seeing is believing. That's the way my life goes. But you must trust me first; then you can see. Concept and words are never enough; people need concrete, need physicality in order to trust you. But trust you must.

After the market shoot i tailed after my boss to the Wine Cellar to "assist" (hold lights and put in my not-always-asked-for two cents) in another shoot for something else (with a real fancy pants photographer with a rolling bag of equipment and expensive lights. hmmm) and then get tipsy off free wine with the whole bourgeois crew. woohoo!

When i arrived a the Asian bistro shoot the next day, i was a little nervous of a repeat. Though pleasantly surprised was i to find find that i would be working with the head chef, and not the owner. Chefs are so much more pleasant to work with, store owners are a bit more tight assed. My apologies to any of you reading this who owns a shop--but well chefs are god-sends to work with; not only for the fact that i (not so secretly) envy and admire them, but because they care about how the food is going to look and be represented, and not themselves (ehem) the food is the star for them in the shot. Excellent. So when i asked for a cutter board and parchment paper he enthusiastically obliged, and he offered wine. woo what a job! No plates? he did ask, me--no plates, we want the naked beauty of this meat and critter (hella expensive Kobe beef and $40 shrimps. aiyyaaaa, just for me to molest) he--you're the photographer, i will get you whatever you need. Brilliant. What fun. Bloody meat, crawling food, no frilly little china plates to get in the way--bare food, i told him we would get the sexy shot; no makeup, no jewelry; raw, pure, and naked. And for this i need cutter boards and knives! I think they turned out, don't you?

So this is what i have learned about cutter boards: the older the better, the more scarred and warped the better--i wouldn't use a cutter board for a fancy cake or delicate baked good (bread--yes, quiche--maybe). Wood and knives--well, save your pastel espresso spoons for your tarts and verines. Cutter boards associate with simplicity and purity. A raw bloody hunk of meat. Oh yeahhhhhh. sell it baby. But don't go overboard, there must be a balance. Just like in real life, everything balances, in the end. This weekend i learned that life will never let everything be good: when one sector of your life summits, another plummets. I suppose it's just the way it is.

Well that's the cutter board report. This cover will be out in June. in case you were wondering. The rest of my weekend? Assistant at another shoot, coffee house story, home caterer story, and tomorrow a feature on an olive bar. Hot dog! and me with my one little lens. well you know what? I seem to hold my own against the ones with the fancy lenses, the high tech lights, umbrellas, and screens--so maybe it is about the photographer after all. There's no embarrassment in toting around a roll of parchment, a white priority mail box, and a mentality to chase the suns real pin light, natural or nothing--seeing is believing.

The hard part about all of this--turning what you love to do into a job, is that not everyone is going to like what you do. To accept criticism is a skill learned, as is to not allow that criticism to crush you. Nothing ever done first try is perfect; draft, draft, and draft again. I have no doubt that i will disappoint, get fired, asked to re-shoot, thrown out of town, punched in the face along the way. But each time i do, it will make the next shot just that much better. So i am counting on failure. If the grocery man decides instead to shoot an overflowing shopping bag--be my guest. I'll just have to try harder next time.

Well now you know the secret- it's just me and my one little lens. Just me, as i am, nothing more. But i will tell you that i think i am going to start trucking around my own cutter board to shoots. Do you doubt? Well you shouldn't. Now back to studying before i fail psychology. stressy weekend? trust me, you don't want to know. so get that blasted camera out of my face!

a bientot


Manuela © said...

I loved all the magazine covers. Loved your picture too :P

The Cooking Photographer said...

Beautiful work. Some owners can be a bear to work with, sadly that might never change. You did well hanging in there.

Marta said...

Sorry you're going through a stressful time Mallory, but better busy than bored! That's my motto!
I'm so art-challenged, I couldn't take a good photo to save my life, but I'll communicate this great info to my photographer :)

Marta said...

Mallory! Hahaha I'm glad someone empathizes with my hate for shopping! I'm only happy spending time and money in markets or kitchen stories. I fantasize with having one of those quaint kitchen stores that also carry delicacies and fancy compotes! hahaha. To put it simply:
Williams & Sonoma = Mecca!
I'm actually in Calgary, Canada... up the coast, over the border and across the mountains from where you are :)

Mallory Elise said...

Thanks peeps. Update: Bistro chef loves the covers and is going to go with me, grocery man--well he wants a re-shoot with someone else. c'est la vie.

ice tea: sugar high said...

Gorgeous photos! Sorry to hear that grocery man decided to go with someone else.. what can be better than your photos! Silly man!

zee said...

Haha.. I like your bla bla bla word on the cover. And really nice shots you've taken.. Wish you success in your future shoot.

Núria said...

You will get far dear!!!! Will you remember about ut when you get up there? Absolutely Awesome/Beautiful/Amazing pictures!
And you are only 23!!!!!! The world is in your hands...

Mallory Elise said...

thank you Nuria, that means a lot to me.

Marta said...

Mallory, how are you doing? Have the tough days blown away? I hope so, I hope the sun in shining a by brighter on your end! You know, I'm in a pretty conventional industry, so I have no idea about how competitive/tough the photography world is, but I think you've got the two most important things: talent and passion! Let those drive you and I'm sure success is just around the corner. Plus, the work you do here is great exposure!
Now, on to shallower topics: You're half Canadian! I'm actually not Canadian at all, hahaha, but I was born in Montreal! I'm half Italian and half Lebanese. I was brought up in Venezuela and I returned to Canada 7 years ago. As you can see, I'm a bit of a nomad and I've seldom felt like I "belong" somewhere. Canada has come the closest to being "home" for me. It's a wonderful country and I'm so lucky to be here :)

Moira - Tertúlia de Sabores said...

Hi Mallory,
The photos are great and very professional. Congratulations!
I loved your photo :P
I wish you all the best.

Rebekah Denn said...

Did you say "meat and fish lens molestation"? I love it! And they are gorgeous shots. I'm getting me some parchment paper next.