My Job is to Make People Hungry (As a Food Photographer)

I don’t think black and white makes a picture better like a guitar solo doesn’t make a song better. If all the elements of a photograph are right for a black and white photo, then it will work. I used to be a big defender of black and white portraiture and street photography but one day I looked at my work and thought it was all crap and decided to try colour; the effect and power of a colour photograph was so intense that decided to turn everything back to colour.

If you look closely, on my portraiture portfolio, there’s a phrase that says “my job is to make people hungry” at first, it might look a bit out of place but when you think about it, It’s an analogy of what chefs do vs what I do; it’s the link that brings both crafts together. As part of the constant evolution of my website, I’ve improved my design by having a vertical scroll portfolio and chose break the monotonous pattern by throwing a few catchphrases/calls to action here and there.

I’ve been saying since my first piece that I became a food photographer because of my passion for food and the respect for industry. I was a cook first, so there is a huge understanding for what my clients do and what it takes to be behind the fires. This respect and appreciation for the craft makes it easier for me to present ideas and approach them with a project in mind or discuss a shoot. I guess like on any other form of photography, if you speak your subject’s language, the job will be a lot easier and the message clearer. That’s a reason why I don’t do weddings or landscapes!

Now, talking about my portraiture. This is something relatively new to me in terms of grabbing someone, putting them against a background and aiming a lens at them while doing my best to not be awkward. I’m loving portraiture at the moment and I wish to explore it further on a personal and professional level.

Sometimes chefs request for me to a be a fly on the wall documenting a busy service focusing on the chefs and the food being plated; other times it’s a special event where there’s a guest chef and the focus is on her or him. Now more often, it’s about formal portraits and posed sessions. It’s entirely their call as their marketing needs are always different. Candid and action shots are usually for their website and social media while posed are typically for editorial or PR purposes or for their blogs and profile pictures on their different channels. Chefs have this reputation of being short tempered and terrifying, in a way I think they enjoy that reputation but only during my very first couple of years in the industry did I perceive. Now, working with them on a different level, I realize they’re just ordinary people like you and me but with a different mindset. They’re fun, and have a wicked sense of humor. But I have to say, my adulthood was shaped in that environment so I have some of their qualities in my personality and it works just fine.

I usually have the creative freedom to “do my thing” so I try to capture their light and atmosphere as I perceive it. At times the job comes from an agency or editorial and there’s a set of guidelines I have to stick to. Either way, It’s always fun, challenging and truly inspiring. My inspiration for portraiture comes from an infinite number of sources but mostly from painting, Renaissance and Baroque painting periods are what fascinate me the most like Caravaggio, Bosch, Velazquez, and Rembrandt. I also look at album covers and stuff like comic book vignettes, and movies. In terms of photography, I don’t really look at portrait photographers that much but if I have to mention someone it has to be Annie Leibovitz. In general, there is something very pictorial about her work that makes it stand out from the rest at least to me.

That pictorial essence is what I’m after when taking portraits. The way it happens is a very odd one: I’m lucky to have a photographic memory which makes it easy for me to remember images, faces, poses and compositions. That way, when I’m in front of someone, I study their face, pose, personality and traits and try to relate it to something I’ve seen before: a movie scene, a portrait of a king, an album cover. Then I try to recreate that scene the best I can and make it my own. It’s not always that something like this happens but when it happens, I know I have THE SHOT.

For more from Xavier be sure to visit his website and personal blog.