Ok…I’m English so moaning about the weather was hard-wired into my brain at birth, but even so, this is getting ridiculous.
It is the 13th June. I am sitting inside working on my computer. Windows closed, wearing a jumper, cup of tea by my side. Outside it is cold…not chilly, not a bit nippy…cold.
It’s making me grumpy.
This is a picture of a quince being grated to make jam. Arguably my favourite fruit. Normally associated with late October or early November…you know, when the seasons are starting to turn, the leaves are beginning to fall, the first fires are being lit and the prickle of the first frosts starting to bite.
Somehow, today, in South East England as the wind howls and the rain smashes against the widow, it seems applicable.
As Mark Twain once said
“Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get”
HOTELS…AND OTHER STORIES
I’m about to finish my brand spanking new dedicated hotel photography website (don’t worry, I’ll bore you all to death with it once it’s ready), and have spent the last few days trawling through my extensive back catalogue of hotel photography choosing which pictures I should use.
In the summer of 2009, I shot a book called ‘England’s Hideaways’ for Rizzoli publishers in New York with writer Meg Nolan, and a lot of stuff for the website has come from this.
It was a long shoot. 38 days to be precise. Meg was great, she put up with me and we’re still, amazingly, in contact.
Let me just explain to you what this entailed.
38 days together. That’s 38 breakfasts, 38 lunches, 38 dinners. Without a break. And 38 days shooting, all day. And driving…LOTS of driving. Frank Zappa once described a band he was with as ‘having been on the road so long, their voices go quiet when they drive under a bridge’. Well, I knew that Meg and I had been on the road too long when, every morning, we’d have an argument about which voice we’d use on the SatNav that day.
Meg and I are very different. She is a sassy, young, bright, smart cookie from New York. I am a large, grumpy, slightly jaded photographer from England.
Meg was fascinated by English place names. We were constantly driving through villages that sounded like out of work actors…Budleigh Salterton (dear, dear Budleigh…I wonder what happened to him?), Melton Mowbray, Chipping Sodbury.
The picture above is one of my favourite places in the book. It’s a quite wonderful B&B called ‘A Corner of Eden’ (www.acornerofeden.co.uk), and it was delightful. I’ve just checked out their website and, since my visit, they have expanded and now have a barn and another cottage. I can’t reccomend it enough. It is in the the middle of a very beautiful nowhere. The peace and quiet is perfect, and the silence is deafening.
Imagine Meg’s face when I told her the address was:
‘A CORNER OF EDEN’, LOW STENNERSKEUGH, RAVENSTONEDALE, KIRKBY STEPHEN, CUMBRIA
Phew, a mouthful even for me.
and Meg, I know you spend a lot of time in Italy, but Cumbria is NOT pronounced like Umbria!
Ciao our kid.
I spent Saturday morning with Carolyn Quartermaine in her beautiful, light filled flat in London.
Although I don’t know her well, we’ve been acquaintances for many years and I have photographed her and her work for a couple of US magazines.
Carolyn is an artist, fabric designer, art director, stylist…the list goes on, but, over the years everything I’ve seen that she’s been involved in has been exquisite.
This time, however, I was interviewing her for B+W PHOTOGRAPHY magazine about her photographs. It’s for a series I’m doing for the magazine about people who would not consider themselves as photographers, but who nevertheless produce beautiful images. Two of my all time favourite ‘photographers’ Karl Blossfeldt & Charles Jones had little or no idea about the beauty of their work during their lifetime, and their fame for their photographs came only after their death.
I had seen some of Carolyns beautiful photographs after we’d become ‘friends’ on Facebook and immediately loved them. Quiet, beautiful and intimate. Shot on her iPad using 1 app, they are, without any trace of the dreaded ‘technique’, absoloutely stunning.
They will be in the September issue, and Im looking forward to seeing them…
Carolyn was in the middle of painting her flat when I got there yet she somehow managed to make even this look rather lovely!
What she did not realise is that in my relatively new ‘writing career’, this was the first time I’ve actually interviewed anyone and I was extremely nervous. Hope it didn’t show too much!
STRAWBERRIES, STYLISTS & THE INJUSTCES OF LIFE
I met Libbie Summers (www.libbiesummers.com) last September when she and her husband Josh came on a photography workshop I was running with my friend Kate Hill at her house in Gascony.
I will admit here and now that I was worried about meeting her. She is a food stylist (actually she’s a food stylist, successful author, acclaimed award winning blogger, wonderful looking, really good company and a right laugh as well which kind of makes you sick…) but it was the ‘stylist’ bit that had me worried.
Over the years I’ve worked with lots and lots of stylists. Some very good ones who have made my life a breeze and my pictures sing, some mediocre ones and some downright awful. These days I’m never sure how to approach stylists. The bad ones have put me off so much that whenever it’s suggested that I have one on a shoot I tend to run away and hide.
I needn’t have worried. I’ve never worked with Libbie, but having spent a week with her I now know I’d love to. She has good strong ideas, is a master of her craft and is always just the right side of bossy. Unfortunately she is in the States and I’m just about to move to darkest Bulgaria, so it seems unlikely.
I’ve just seen a post by her on her blog with a picture of her hands holding an enormous strawberry, A REALLY enormous strawberry that almost covers her palm. She states ‘I NEVER remember my Grandmother, Lula Mae, growing a strawberry this big. Consequently, I never remember a strawberry from her garden tasting this bland.’
This took me back to a trip that we made to Western Ukraine two years ago this June. Anyone who reads this blog already knows how much I love it there and how much this wonderful but troubled country has come to mean to me.
It was beautiful weather, the outdoor cafés were packed with people and the markets were packed with strawberries.
But not big ones.
There were some that we would recognise as strawberries. Not enormous, and a bit grubby but delicious and juicy. However the strawberries that caught our eye were wild strawberries. Tiny things the size of my little finger nail. They were everywhere, packed into jars and offered to us by all the Babushkas who come into the market in Lviv every day to sell their produce.
The taste of them was ridiculous. I have never in my life tasted anything to compare. Yes, I’ve eaten ‘Fraises du Bois’ in France and they are very nice, but the majority of them are cultivated and they simply did not compare to these little Ukranian ones. We bought jar after jar of them and sat in the park stuffing ourselves.
The thing that really struck me however was the ‘styling’. Obviously that’s a misnomer and a ridiculous thing to say, but these ladies, these poor ladies, these hard working people who had come in to Lviv on the bus to sell whatever they could find in the fields had done one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Unable to afford lids to put on their jars of wild strawberries, they had taken fig leaves, or ferns and tied them around the jars to keep them fresh.
It was…wonderful. And it made me happy and sad in equal measures.
In London or New York, these strawberries would cost a King’s ransome. and we would be paid what, for them, would be a small fortune for Libbie to replicate what they had done and for me to photograph it. Yet in the market in Lviv we could buy them for pennies. Looking for all the world like they’d just come straight from the pages of a glossy food magazine.
We even came across one lady who was selling them like little bunches of edible flowers to munch on as you walked around the market.
I’m not sure what to say really. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of ‘Picturesque Poverty’, but I do know that something just seems kind of wrong…
On a lighter note, I now know that Libbie’s grandmother was called Lula Mae. Lula Mae! As an Englishman who grew up wanting to be a cowboy this is fantastic! I can imagine myself coming back to the ranch all hot and bothered after a long day of rounding up the cattle and fighting off several baddies, sliding off my dusty horse and saying ‘Lula Mae, I’m ready for mah dinner’…
Sadly I never met either of my grandmothers, but I do know that they were called Elsie and Beryl, which somehow doesn’t quite have the same ring about it…
RIGHT, THAT’S LUNCH SORTED…
Just add olive oil, lemon juice, black pepper, hunk of bread & a glass of red.
Only one question now remains. Why is it still so bloody cold?
I WON AN AWARD!
Yep…I won an award, for the second year running at the ‘Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year’ Awards, and had a second picture nominated for the finals.
I am now officially the ‘Errazuriz Wine Photographer of the Year’! and am steadily drinking my way through the ‘years supply’ of Errazuriz wine that I won!
I have to send a massive THANK YOU to my beloved partner who (exactly the same as last year, when I was the only photographer nominated in three categories…winning in one and coming second in two) chose the pictures.
Have not been too well since the rather swanky prizegiving in London, hence the lack of posts on here, but rest assured, I’m now fighting fit again and normal service is resumed…
NEW LOVE, A SPELLING CONUNDRUM & JIMI HENDRIX
As my relationship with meat fades (see previous entries) I find that my love affair with the chilli goes from strength to strength. So my joy when this little bundle of spiciness dropped onto my doorstep the other day was unconfined.
They were a present from my friend Monica Shaw, who had been telling of her wonderful Salsa Macha on her blog.
The smell as I was taking this picture was amazing, a spicy, smoky aroma which hit me smack in the face and got my tastebuds positively zinging. They are, from top left clockwise chilli chipotle, chilli pasilla, chilli guajillo, chilli de arbol & in the middle, chilli ancho…and I’m looking forward to all of them. One of the things I find people saying to me when they find out that I’m almost totally off meat these days is that it’s so difficult, without meat, to get ‘depth of flavour’ in your cooking. Well try some of these babies because, if you ask me, if you can’t get ‘depth of flavour’ without using meat, you’re just not a very good cook.
Incidentally, I had a bit of a problem when it came to spelling these chaps. I guess, as they are Mexican I should have used the Spanish spelling ‘chile’. The Oxford English Dictionary states that the English spelling is ‘chilli’, the US spelling is ‘chili’ and the Spanish ‘chile’. Only problem is, as a Jimi Hendrix fan, I don’t want to ruin one of my all time favourite Hendrix tracks, the wonderful, life enhancing ‘Voodoo Chile’ by thinking of it as ‘Voodoo Chilli’ as it would lose some of its impact, so, as I am, for better or worse, English, I stuck with ‘chilli’…
This is not, despite the way it feels this morning, a picture of the weather in South East England.
It is a picture from my column in this month’s Black+White Photography magazine. This is from a wonderful trip we took in the Carpathian mountains in Western Ukraine a couple of years back.
I’m getting more and more excited about exploring Eastern Europe and I will be running a lot of very exciting workshops in some great locations in 2014, and this year am running 2 in Bulgaria, in the amazing town of Kotel. Check them out here.
NEW PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOPS
Very excited to announce the venues for this years photography workshops.
I’m running dedicated Food Photography workshops & Food & Travel workshops in Andalucia, and Portraiture and Travel workshops in the amazing town of Kotel in Bulgaria. All with the added bonus of learning all the tricks of the trade in the minefield of post-production.
You can find out all about them HERE
So, if you want to solve the riddle of such professional secrets as keeping your hair out of the lens, the importance of standing on tables and how to keep your feet out of your pictures…Let this internationally renowned, award winning photographer help you out!
Go on - you know you want to…
I am not a vegetarian. Neither am I a vegan. Yet.
However, since we returned from the Balkans in January, I have been 95% vegan (the 5% being mainly honey, which I can’t give up…and a pork pie from Boxley’s of Wombourne, which was great, but I just don’t want another one).
Now, before you sneer (which, I suspect, the majority of you already are), bear a couple of things in mind…a) I love my food, and b) I’m a very good cook.
We have been eating some delicious food, I’ve lost a LOT of weight and despite the fact that I’ve had my fair share of health problems over the last few years, I’ve not felt this healthy or energetic since my teens. It may not work for you, but by golly, it works for me, so, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
These funny looking things above are Hunza Apricots. They look, and feel like small dusty pebbles, but, soaked overnight in cold water (and gently poached if you want) they turn into nectar. Sweet and caramelly, all they need is a small squeeze of lime. They are now a staple of mine, along with a few other things that I’ll probably bang on about in the future. Give them a go, they’re wonderful, and don’t be put off by how ill that man or woman in your local healthfood shop where you go to buy them looks. They’re hippies, and it’s all that dairy…
So doubting chums, engage brains and listen to THIS , read THIS, make yourself something from THIS, and ask yourself, as you overtake yet another lorry full of terrified sheep or pigs (or, dare I say it, horses) on their way to the slaughterhouse…is the taste of a bacon sandwich REALLY more important to you than spending happy, healthy time with your family and loved ones?
I did a shoot in the wonderful restaurant ‘Terre a Terre’ in Brighton a while back. The food there is always delicious, beautifully cooked and presented with skill and love. It regularly wins awards and was the Observer Food Monthly’s Vegetarian Restaurant of the year for several years running. The owners themselves are not vegetarians, and they summed up their philosophy to me with the phrase ‘It’s a Restaurant…it just happens to be vegetarian’
So…I’ll take the flak and, for the time being, enjoy eating my delicious vegan food…or, as vegans call it ‘food’.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT?
This is a picture from my column in this month’s B+W Photography magazine.
To be honest, it’s an image that should be filed in the ‘I’ve taken this picture before’ drawer. In fact, if I’m honest, I’ve probably taken this picture hundreds of times before.
Just as in the day’s when I was shooting mainly interiors, there came a point when I had to ask myself ‘how many more ways are there to photograph a bloody sofa?’, there comes a point in food photography when you have to ask yourself ‘how many more ways are there to shoot a sausage?’
I don’t know is the answer…but I do know that I still like this, and, again, if I’m honest, as long as I keep on liking it, I’m pretty certain that I’ll shoot it again.
I also know that me and sofas, at least photographically speaking, are pretty much through…
FROM THE VAULTS #1 - KYIV, UKRAINE
I’m feeling a bit down at the moment. Probably because it’s ‘That great, grey beast, February’.
Started having a huge trawl through and clean up of my archive and realised that there is a whole lot of stuff in there that, for one reason or another, has never seen the light of day. So I shall be ressurecting a few of them on here from now on, starting with one of our trips to Ukraine a couple of years back.
My beloved partner lived for 3 months in Kyiv, Ukraines capital, in the late 80’s whilst studying Russian and Soviet studies at SSEES. She had told me about the giant statue ‘Rodina Mat’ that dominated the city skyline and, waiting for a train connection with a few hours to kill, we decided to go and take a look.
She’s impressive. VERY impressive. 102 metres tall and made out of stainless steel she shone and glinted in the spring sunshine. There’s a lift inside her that takes you up to a viewing platform inside her head (which, sadly we didn’t have time for). Her sword alone is 16 metres (52ft) long!
The sculptures around her base which form the entrance to the Museum of the Great Patriotic War are massive and awe inspiring.
They say the Devil has all the best tunes. That may or may not be true, but in my mind…the Soviets definitely had ALL the best sculptures.
Just to show how big she is, that’s her on the hill in the bottom left of this picture shot from a bridge over the enormous Dnieper River that flows through Kyiv.