Aaron Graubart’s “Gyotaku” Photos Are Inspired by Traditional Japanese Prints

All images by Aaron Graubart. Used with permission.

“We didn’t storyboard the images but we did have a clear idea of how they should look,” says photographer Aaron Graubart about his photos inspired by the traditional Japanese fish printing technique called Gyotaku. “Each set was constructed in layers – the printed background, then in some of the images a glass plate, raised above that was a clear perspex sheet with the food arranged on top so that the food appears to float above the surface. Directional, very hard lighting completes the overall effect.” Aaron continued to state that it was a true collaboration between prop stylist Alexander Breeze (who first had the idea to use this as their inspiration), food stylist Sal Henley, and himself.

“All of the images came together fairly straightforwardly as we had a very clear goal set out beforehand. There really wasn’t one that took more time than the others, it was just a case of working through them all and fine tuning the composition as we worked.”

The images are inspired by a technique called Gyotaku. This is a traditional Japanese method of printing fish. It was originally used by fishermen to record their catch. It was colloquially done using Sumi Ink and Washi paper. Washi paper is a rice paper that been commercialized for printing in the photo world by folks like Legion and MOAB; though I’ve mostly only seen good work done on it with black and white imagery. Of course, the Gyotaku method has more artistic applications, sort of like the shibori cloth dying technique does. That’s what we’re getting here from Aaron.

These images, however, have their own unique twist.


In the blurb that we were provided about the series, they state:

Fishermen in Japan in the mid-nineteenth century knew how to have fun. Gyotaku is a kind of nature-printing method where fine rice paper is applied to the inked-up surface of a fish or other sea creature, first developed by Japanese fishermen to record their catch. Roughly along the same lines a brass rubbing, only fishier. This series of images was inspired by the traditional methods of gyotaku but with a very modern twist. Prop stylist Alexander Breeze used newsprint to print onto (the kind that British Fish & Chip shops use to wrap your haddock and chips). Printed using the key ingredient from each dish, then cut and reformed to create abstract and sculptural backgrounds. Food stylist Sal Henley developed dishes using ingredients that could be used to create their own inks (turmeric, coffee and nettles for example) to build an eclectic menu that’s not just limited to fish. The pictures show: razor clams with nettle butter; chargrilled octopus with squid ink tapioca; turmeric-fried red snapper; chargrilled red cabbage with a red wine glaze; and coffee cream mille-feuille.

As you can tell, the effect is really gorgeous.