As a photographer, you have to be a visual problem solver, but also a creative one too. Whenever Valentine's day rolls around, as a food photographer I try to resist the typical Valentine's day subject matter. I try to think about what a day like this means, both visually and conceptually, and how that would take form in a still life image.
Valentine's day is a day to celebrate love. It has a curious history that started with Christian Martyrdom and then evolved into a day that celebrated romantic love during 18th century England when courtly love flourished and it was common to lavish affection with gifts of flowers, sweets and greeting cards.
I was struck recently by a speech during Harvard Graduation in which a poem by Raymond Carver was read. It is a poem that asks what is the most important thing in life- and answers- to feel BELOVED. I think we all recognize how important it is for humans and animals to feel that they are loved. Sometimes we harden ourselves to this need and say it isn't that important, or we forget how much we need it. Valentine's day is a day to remember that need. To appreciate the love that you both give and receive. And I'm not talking just about the love you are feeling for the decadent chocolatey goodness in this photo!
I had a few free days at the beginning of this New Year and found some wonderful fellow collaborators (stylists) to start the year playing in the studio. Here are a few photos from our session. I always love shooting breakfast. More to come later!
When a client you have worked with for a number of years leaves the company you are shooting for (in this case a publishing client) it is a concern that the person who replaces them will want to work with new people. I am always thrilled to be given the opportunity to continue the relationship with the new client. In fact, my team embraces the opportunity to approach the assignments under a different directive. This is what happened recently and below is some work that we did for a cool new client who has a wonderful sense of food.
The benefit of having a studio in San Francisco is that we can accommodate a grilling shoot easily- moving the "show" outside to the studio garden, has been a real asset, especially when we need access to all the studio has to offer (accommodating kitchen, Wifi for clients, access to grip and camera gear). This last month we have had three shoots where we took the shoot outdoors to the garden. Another benefit of being is SF- is that we don't typically have to worry about rain days!
Here is some of the fun we had outside!
Below is a promotional piece we created from some of the work shot for the various projects.
Lola, the Spatchcock Pug, is on our set "art director" making sure everything smells just right!
There have been discussions for a number of years about how clients ( art buyers, art directors, designers, photo buyers, producers) find out about a photographer's work. Now there are so many ways for them to find work. Current thinking suggests that the printed promo is obsolete. That clients don't like receiving all that mail because then they need to find a place to store it. The computer - and now I would say the smartphone - has done away with the old school method of opening up a file cabinet or box and sifting through all the promos that have been sent.
I send them anyway. I personally still like print (despite the extra time that my team and I spend working with our printer to get the colors and tones just right) I like the physicality of them and I guess so do some of my clients! In fact one of them was sweet enough to send me a photo of his office wall covered in my promos! This blew me away- it made all that work worth while. There is something so validating about knowing that your work is not just selling your client's products, but people are enjoying it as well!
I love it when a book that I have photographed comes out. I get to see how the images and text work with each other to tell the story. The choices of fonts, layouts and cropping all are so important in how the work is interpreted. It is why I love to work with the talented designers of Chronicle Books. I also am interested to hear what the author's feelings about the book, it is most important to me since the book is their "baby". I am always hopeful that I have done justice to their writing. Thank you to Diane Morgan for giving me another chance to work on one of her books.
No less a consumer of alcohol than Ernest Hemingway said of wine:
“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
― Ernest Hemingway
Photographer Leigh Beisch’s collaboration with wine and restaurant blogger Alder Yarrow came through a cookbook referral from noted San Francisco chef and consultant to the restaurant and food industries, Joyce Goldstein. “He wanted someone to partner with for the blog. He’s very articulate and elegant. The way he spoke about my work made me feel like I’d be partnering with someone who understood my work,” Beisch explains.
Yarrow’s highly regarded blog, Vinography® details his opinions and insights on “Wine and food adventures in San Francisco and around the world”. Vinography.com has been published daily since 2004, and he was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2013.
Together Yarrow and Beisch collaborated on a wine book that is startlingly unique. To round out the project, Sara Slavin, who frequently collaborates with photographers, designers and publishers on editorial projects, and has co-authored numerous books. Sara was brought in as an art director/stylist. “We have similar feelings about work. We view our jobs as not just jobs but work we are passionate about,” Leigh says. “Sara put in a lot of leg work, we tried to create photography that went beyond the expected shot of these flavor essences of wine. We tried to capture that taste, that aroma.”
Winner of the 2015 Chairman’s Prize at the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers Awards, The Essence of Wine Celebrating the Delights of the Palate is both a comprehensive wine guide, coffee table opus, and an art book so beautifully photographed and styled that one can almost smell the delicious aromas arising from its pages. In fact, the book contains an aroma card that tells the story of wine’s flavors. The Essence of Wine is divided into four groups of the “sensory panoply” wine offers: harvest, garden, terrain, and kitchen, providing inspiration and guidance for Beisch’s approach.
“I wanted it to be a fusion, something that is personal as well as a product for clients. It pushed the boundaries, but was a commercial project in some sense,” she says of the long-term project. “Wine is an artistic form in and of itself. Alder brings all the passion that goes into wine,” she adds, and she brought the passion of a fine artist to the project. Trained as a painter, Beisch’s work is sensuous and rich, often appearing more like a painting than a photograph, and always impeccably styled with a light, but sure touch.
“Due to my thesis work at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design], I have been trained to think about how and why I do things,” she explains. “A lot of it stems from being a female artist as well. I allow my emotional response to what I’m photographing play into how I’m photographing it. Food is an emotional experience. Rather than viewing it as subject/object, it’s really an experience.
“For this project the subjective point of view was more important. That experience you get with wine tasting. I certainly appreciate wines; I am interested in any kind of art form. I talked to vintners about how they made their wines. They are like paintings, these wines.”
Food and drink are two of life’s great pleasures and experiences. The sensual textures, aromas, flavors, and colors of wine enhance its gustatory pleasure. Most oenophiles, or wine lovers, can describe flavors they enjoy; some might be fans of red wine, others favor whites with their lighter, crisper taste. The strict traditions of consumption, and appreciation, of wine may escape the average consumer, and are often seen as arcane and pretentious by the uninformed. This tome offers a chance to acquaint oneself with the components that make up this time-honored beverage and to be drawn into a deeper understanding of wine.
Using props, textures, and light, and never over styling, allows those natural elements, changes and differences to come into her work. “They are important. They are the subjective part that as an artist you want to bring in. As a human, as a woman— and as a huge consumer —I feel like I reflect a very appropriate point of view that works with the consumer market,” Beisch details.
“When I first started in commercial photography, as a fine artist I tried to challenge things. Why do all the labels have to be in focus? Why does the wine have to have no studio lighting reflections? Why can’t it be dappled, or highlighted? It seems more energetic and exciting, questioning those things,” she says.
When one discovers Beisch’s background, it’s no surprise that she challenges and examines conventional wisdom. Born in New York to a poet mother and creative director father who worked with photographic luminaries like Diane Arbus, Irving Penn, and Richard Avedon, she was encouraged to pursue photography. Her father’s work brought his family to London, and eventually back to the States. “He got a gig heading up an agency in the Boston area. My mom started going back to school at a Harvard extension,” Leigh says. Concord is where she grew up with stories and ideologies of nature and art.
“My mother was writing poetry on her IBM Selectric in the dining room,” she remembers. “Hearing her always reading poetry aloud, brought us up in this world of seeing things in different ways—looking and savoring each thing around you, turning words into images and vice versa. “
David Williams, in his review of the book for The World of Fine Wine, lavished praise on Beisch’s photography: “The essays alone conjure a vivid sense of each flavor or scent. Combined with Beisch’s photos, the experience is gorgeously sensuous. A series of still lifes, they could so easily have become repetitive or have lapsed into the clichés of stock photography or an upper-end food-store catalog. But Beisch, while stamping the book with a recognizable signature, invests each image with its own personality, texture, and feel. Like the prose, they stand on their own. Together, they make for a highly original and pleasurable experience.”
The Essence of Wine isn’t a book you would take to the store to help you select wines for an important dinner party. It is a book you can cradle in your hands and peruse the way you would walk through a museum gallery, stopping to admire and study certain compelling paintings. Beisch’s preference for natural light shows to great advantage when focused on sensual still lifes of elements that fuse together to create wine, that elixir that has been celebrated in art, song, and poetry for millennia.
An award-winning commercial photographer specializing in food and still life. Leigh's work has been featured in numerous cookbooks and magazines, national advertising, packaging and catalogs. Her personal work includes a series of abstract landscapes. She lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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