Pictures good enough to eat

One photographer described it as being like performance art: when it’s happened it’s happened. Another suggested it was about selling a dream, needing the audience to want what you are conveying. However many definitions there may be of food photography, on one aspect of it is there unanimous agreement, and that is the way that over the last few decades it has transformed into a veritable art.

Great food photography is so powerful that you could almost eat it. This, of course,
is the whole idea, but a cast back to old cookbooks and food magazines reveals stilted frames of dishes laid out in a way both unappetising and inedible. For a long time food photographs would be shot from an overhead perspective, the way, in fact, that diners experienced a meal – so individual items (complete with their embarrassing garnishes) would be set out flatly on plates. Gradually, shallower angles, props and altered lighting came into fashion – and today the best food photography is characterised by clarity and simplicity, often achieved by extreme close-ups. I remember once being told that food photography in Australia was considered among the best in the world and it was because of the quality of the light we have here – the intense, unforgiving antipodean light – and to be sure light is the critical element, and if it is natural daylight then the effect will be so much more real.

It is indeed a great art, and in our midst is a photographer who is gradually making
it one of her specialities. Fran Flynn is a Dublin lass who arrived in Australia in 1998
as part of a six-week holiday with a gaggle of female friends. She was in her early 20s with a degree in Graphic Communication and Design under her belt, and a major in photography. Fran loved Australia so much she decided on the flight back home that she wanted to return on a working holiday. ‘Theoretically I was to be away from Ireland for a year but that stretched out to 19 months after all the travelling,’ she told me. After that she wangled another three-month holiday visa – and it was then that rather quickly she realised that she wanted to stay. She applied for a business sponsorship, and promptly got it. ‘I had one week left on my three-month visa and in one day I got three job offers,’ she said. ‘They were all in Sydney and they were all managerial design jobs.’

So Fran spent the next few years in Sydney doing largely contract work, fitting in a course in photography at the Australian Centre for Photography as well. She ended up in Byron Bay because of a friend who was living here, ‘just hanging out for a couple of months’,
not wanting too much pressure. Then out of the blue she was asked if she was a food photographer. ‘It was [chef/restaurateur] Matty Wilde,’ she said. ‘He said we need a food photographer. So I did food photography for him, and also his website. Then things just started to flow in. Because I was city-trained there wasn’t a lot of high-end stuff up here. It was really nice to be hands-on creative again. So I started Frangipani Creative.’

Fran had done some food photography as part of her studies. ‘I was pretty good at it, and I’d been photographing for quite a long time already. That Wilde experience gave me a lot of confidence. Things just flowed – people saw something they liked – it’s all been word-of-mouth.’

For the past two years Fran has been working with food stylist Sarah de Nardi, involved
in campaigns for Zest (marinades) and Fishmongers, amongst others. Fashion and food photography have gradually become her niche – ‘it’s the work I do that draws the most attention – I enjoy it the most. And you’re working with a team.’

She said that there’s an urgency to food photography to make it look good; it all has to be done quickly. Everything is planned and pre-planned meticulously.‘The key,’she said, ‘is being shot straight from the chef to the plate. Mine is 90 per cent the real thing. You’re really trying to make it look as good as it does in reality.’

About victoria

Author of the gastro-memoir 'Amore&Amaretti: A Tale of Love an Food in Tuscany', I am a Byron Shire-based food and travel writer, food columnist, cooking teacher, recipe editor and chef. Born in Canberra, ACT, I have a BA in languages although am only really passionate about the Italian one, in which I am fluent, having spent four years in Tuscany in my late twenties, and returning reasonably frequently ever since. Despite that, my partner of many years, a wonderful artist, clothes designer and aged carer, is half-Greek!
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