Food usually stars in my photos. But, props are the strong supporting cast. They add to the drama and help to tell the story. Objects speak to me—especially vintage kitchen gadgets. I collect them. They whisper plaintively to me at flea markets, convincing me to take them home! Sparking my imagination, the dialog that develops between objects and food is an important part of the script for most shots. This fanciful relationship I feel with props inspires a body of my personal work. Kitchen implements combine with food items or other materials until distinct characters emerge—and begin to speak to me. Above, a grouping of characters I created from my collection are auditioning to be featured in a new production, all clamboring, “Pick me, pick me!”
In my work for clients, the language of props is just as important. They create exposition about setting, just as characters in a play often have lines that help the playwright convey place and mood, or even take the place of scenery: “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?”. Props in a food image can tell the viewer about the recipe by conveying setting: casual or elegant, rustic or refined, vintage or modern. Color, texture, style and scale are also critical elements helping to create that impression. Objects speak volumes.
I always love the chance to incorporate unique pieces into my shots when they complement the food and the style of the job. For Robert Sugar’s cookbook, Delicious By Design, I was able to feature many of my favorite vintage pieces. They worked well with the intent of his recipes, our personal style and sense of humor. His recipes were all developed at home with his family over many years, and the text of the book is written in a light, warm, casual first-person style. The well-loved look of many of the vintage kitchen props we featured supported that style. And, one of my favorite collaborators, food stylist Lisa Cherkasky knew exactly how to realize this vision with me. Here are four of my favorites from this book:
The up-ended colander, in the role of a salad bowl, supports the “Onglet Salad.”
The vintage meat-grinder is cast in the role of a superhero who can support this “Juiciest Hamburger,” and really take the heat.
This handsome mezza-luna makes a sharp escort, supporting “Mom’s Chopped Liver.”
The grater shines in a supporting role in this steamy ensemble production of “Not-Macaroni and Cheeses.”
Below, this collection of vintage kitchen implements waits in the wings. Some of these tools are familiar, but who even knows what some of them were originally used for? And, what new story will be told when the recipe is presented using one of these unusual items? What/who will these now-anonymous objects become, when transformed by my imagination? When they are ready for their turn in the spotlight, I will be sure to mount their debut on this stage!