I am continuing my series with photographers and stylists here on Mattbites.com. Why? With so much attention focused on celebrity chefs and restaurants, both in the media and through blogs, I think it’s important to turn the camera around and meet the artists who create all those gorgeous, mouth-watering and inspirational cookbooks we buy.
Food photographers are an interesting and passionate bunch. They are just as exact as a classically trained chef when it comes to their work, but underneath the technical requirements you’ll often find artists, foodies and true bon vivants. Heck, who wouldn’t want to be around people like that, I ask?
I met Jeff Kauck recently through Mattbites and became captivated by his work like no other. As a photographer working in Chicago, Jeff has worked on cookbooks like The Spiaggia Cookbook, Williams-Sonoma Mastering Pasta and Williams-Sonoma Mastering Soup. He is also a 2005 James Beard Photography nominee and contributed to the 2006 James Beard award-winning book The Cook’s Book. To say he’s only a food photographer misses the true artistry of his work. Jeff creates imagery that exudes elegance and serenity, using color, shape and form to engage without overwhelming the viewer. And no matter how artistic and beautiful his work is, cookbooks must engage the reader and inspire them to eat and cook. Jeff does exactly that. And the best part? He’s one amazingly nice guy.
MB: How long have you been shooting?
JK: Professionally for 29 years.
MB: Why do you shoot food?
JK: Food is something you can enhance, put in a place, create a mood and get the senses stirring. I love that.
MB: Your work is fresh, open, accessible and inviting. Do you have a philosophy on how you like to capture food?
JK: I try to start with a memory that really inspired me. Maybe it’s a place, a smell. Maybe a color or feeling of light. I get a clear picture in my mind, then build from there. I also gravitate towards highlights. Watercolor painters usually paint from the mid-tones up. Oil painters usually from the mid-tones down. I try to shoot pictures from the mid-tones up.
MB:. I understand that you are a painter and approach your photography in that manner. How has your background as a fine artist helped you in your photography career?
JK: Mostly with lighting. The great painters are masters of light. The shadows of Frederick Frieseke. The color lift of Claude Monet. The genius of Mary Whyte are constant inspirations.
MB: Do you cook at home? Have any favorite places to eat in Chicago?
I love to cook and bake. Spiaggia, Salpicon, Custom House, Green Zebra, Avec, Spring, West Town Tavern, Sweets and Savories, Japonais, Mia Francesca are places I frequent.
MB:. Having worked on tons of ad campaigns and photo shoots I understand the process of conception, planning, shooting and producing. However, the cookbooks you’ve worked on are major affairs. What do you enjoy most about working on cookbooks? What are your least favorite parts? And are you filled with pure satisfaction when you get to hold a completed book in your hands? Or are you sick and tired of it by that point and ready for the next project?
JK: A passionate chef and crew is so addictive. My least favorite part is that many times the magic of the original photography is lost in the printing. Most of the time I am filled with satisfaction, but occasionally I’m screaming “what the *^&$# did they do to our hard work! And I’m always looking for the next great project. I’m really lucky that I take pictures for a living. Truth be told, I’ve only “worked” a few days in my entire career.
MB: You have a series of three images in the travel category of your web site. The image is composed of some type of palm tree fruit over huts on the beach, a palm leaf with light shining through it and a grilled fish with citrus slices. These images have now been permanently burned into my brain and shall never go away – I thank you for that. I wish I was inside those images right now. Can you tell me a little bit about those?
JK: Beer, Mexico, beer, Mexico. Seriously nothing more then that.
I love to walk around searching for photos. Which for me is very different from making photos. So I was walking around Mexico while on vacation and those pictures where there. I just took snap shots.
Leave it to a true artist like Jeff Kauck to create works of art from just snap shots!
Online at Jeff Kauck Photography.
And a very special thanks to Jeff for taking the time out of his schedule. All photos on this post © Jeff Kauck Photography.