Shards of glass stuck to a man’s head as he spits out wine. Creme anglaise dripping down the same man’s face as he dribbles raspberries down his chin. A piece of meat between his clenched teeth, as blocks of charcoal smoke on his face. Some would call this a waste of gourmet food, but a chef and photographer pair call this the future of food photography.
The project entitled Menu is the brainchild of chef and food creative Robbie Postma and photographer and visual designer Robert Harrison. The pair met while working at a creative forecasting agency in Amsterdam and soon realised they shared a passion for food and art. So, they set about turning “classic” food photography - that is comforting, inviting and not generally stuck to someone’s face - upside down. Most of the resulting images took six hours to construct and weren't retouched.
“We decided to take the audience back to the origin of a menu,” Postma explains to The Independent. “We deconstructed a traditional menu, and put its raw, individual elements back together again on my face," he adds matter-of-factly.
By dismantling food and the idea of the menu, the duo not only created some arresting photos but invited the viewer to question what they put in their body, how it is presented to them and how eating is one of the most carnal desires.
“This project is about appreciating the process food goes through before it ends up on your plate in a restaurant," says Postma. "I think a lot of people don’t really realise that some dishes take hours, weeks sometimes months of preparation,” adds Postma. "I think that eating in a restaurant to a lot of people still is just a random series of dishes. I hope that with this series we show that a menu in a restaurant is a carefully planned series of dishes with a chef’s philosophy behind it."
“This is where crafting art and crafting a menu cross paths,” adds Harrison. “It all starts with a philosophy, then you think of a series of dishes to follow through on this philosophy. Or in Menu's case a series of photos. So, exactly the same as creating a food menu, in the series we wanted to keep surprising our viewer. We did this through a variety in flavours, way of plating, techniques, colours and the order of serving.
“Then, finally, most of the time goes into creating the mise-en-place. This became one of the most important part of the project; showing how much time and attention goes into creating something good. Therefore we didn’t use any digital manipulation but stuck every ingredient to the face manually.”
As for artistic inspiration, Harrison cites everyone from the brooding colours used by Caravaggio to the aesthetics of portrait photographers Marco Grob and Denis Rouvre.
“After we decided to use Robbie’s face as a canvas I made a mood board to see what direction we wanted to go in terms of art direction, grading, colour composition and inspiration," says Harrison.
To combine these elements, the pair would take an average of six hours on each photos and nine hours on the Starch piece. This process was about as glamorous as its sounds.
“Robbie would go to the studio after work to start sticking ingredients onto his face in front of a mirror. Then I would turn up to set up the lightning. Then I’d help sticking the ingredients onto places that Robbie couldn’t reach. So I guess we got to know each other quite well!” jokes Harrison.
“I believe the devil is in the detail, and that was definitely our approach to this project," says Harrison. "Our big thing was that all the photos had to be in-camera realism with no digital manipulation. But for us this craft element was the whole concept: take no prisoners, no easy way out. So that meant that depending on the shoot we would be limited to the amount of photos we could take. For Wine, for example, we only had seven photos in total at the end of the shoot. This was because the glue wouldn’t hold when the wine hit the glass stuck on Robbie’s face. So when spitting out the wine, the glass would fall off of his face – and we’d have to start all over again from scratch.
"The same went for the Sweets shoot. We taped Robbie’s eyes and poured the chocolate over his head. When he was in position he stuck the raspberries in his mouth and we took of the tape from his eyes. Now me, as the photographer, had just a few shots to catch the right moment before the chocolate would go into Robbie’s eyes which would be very uncomfortable for him - and the raspberries were totally smooched or mixed with chocolate. So you could say it was the slowest thing in the world to prepare, and then a total race for time to get that one, magical shot. Meat for example gave us much more shots we could use. With this one we had more time to experiment with different kinds of smoke, including cigarettes, cigars and blunts, positioning and lightning."
“The reason it took so long was because we wanted everything to be crafted by hand and we really wanted the ingredients to be the hero.”
The resulting images are quite startling. Was this something that Harrison and Postma intended?
"As photographer I wanted to create something that was dark, disturbing yet at the same time beautiful,” says Harrison. “I also wanted to give the series that raw elemental feeling. I wanted to give the audience something to look at: a ‘wow’ feeling. Yes I wanted to make it visceral and provocative, something to talk about. And as you say something that makes you look twice at the image. This was also in the detail of the images."
Manipulating food and working with it in a new way has changed their perceptions of what we eat, adds Harrison. “Using food is an epic medium, combining it with portraiture just throws in a fourth dimension. It is also interesting because it's alive - and fragile. So if it opened me up to anything new? Yes absolutely, a world of infinite imagination and experimentation."
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