“I do what I do,” says Lee Warren. And that is food that speaks for itself in a photograph – natural, homely, wholesome family food, using the colours and props to tell a story.
Lee has a visual language that conveys all this and more. He loves food and all that means – nourishment, taste, socialising, conveying love and it’s reflected in his photography with deceptively simple images. He adores his home and family, their productive garden and the kind of slow-developing relationships he has with clients as he comes to know them well as food producers and friends.
His business is Fotoshoot – Commercial Studio Photography. Their primary work is branding and commercial photography, applying long experience in the craft of food photography to the client’s marketing priorities. The controlled light in the studio setting ensures consistency of colour and tone across seasons, a high priority for clients such as wine producers and branding generally.
There is a natural crossover between home values and Lee’s photographic techniques and if someone wants something other than this then they would need to choose another photographer, he says.
Clients include most of the region’s wine producers, apple and fruit growers, and meat producers of Hawke’s Bay and some local restaurants. The client brings the produce to his house; the food is prepped and cooked in the kitchen, most often to a recipe Lee’s partner Heather Smith has devised, and then photographed immediately.
Heather is the cook, unless it is a restaurant job, when the chef cooks. The kitchen is well-equipped, but is a home kitchen. The larder must be the best stocked in the Bay, there are shelves and shelves of recipe books, chopping boards, butchery knives/choppers, pewter platters, plates, wineglasses. Home is their workplace, super-comfortable furniture including rustic wooden table, leather sofas, high ceilings; nothing is perfect, but everything speaks of an emotionally rich but modestly self-sufficient life – and the possibility of being a prop for the next job.
Similarly, the garden is set up with rows of grape vines, full and floppy peonies, old roses, heritage tomatoes, herbs, vegetables, everything put to use to enhance the photography while also supplying the family kitchen.
The studio seems almost secondary, but is not of course. It is set up with every brand and capability of camera, Profoto lighting studio flash, controlled lighting, light reflectors, screens, white umbrellas, moveable white walls, use of shadow and reflected light, computerised tech and yet more props.
Most important to Lee Warren is to be part of a team of people who like his kind of work. He has worked with Jason Ross at First Light for 12-13 years, describing the team as ‘incredible’ to be involved with. “These guys are my perfect client, so innovative,” he says. “They have a unique New Zealand product and are taking it to the world.”
The same applies for other clients including Bostock NZ and Yummyfruit producer Paul Paynter. He finds delight in being involved with their successes, as revealed in their full-page ads (all his own work) in the Air New Zealand inflight magazine. “It’s enormously satisfying,” he says.
By contrast with studio food photographer Lee Warren, Florence Charvin prefers to photograph in natural light, providing a photography and food styling service working with clients in their kitchens and homes.
Working closely with the chef, she gets to understand their food ethos, the type of business they are in, position in the market and the lifestyle or theme to be conveyed through the photographic story.
With an eye for composition, she describes her images of food as “inviting” to the viewer, with beautiful freshly-prepared food, visual linkages of colour and texture, natural light and with sympathetic props such as pottery, simple herbs and flowers.
With her artist’s eye and using visual allusions, angles and variations in focus to intensify the image, she describes herself as “a visual person”. Her images tend to have an ‘X’ factor that tends towards the “romantic” – but that also depends on the brief from the client. Her photography is used for websites, brochures or promotional collateral or sometimes only styling the food for local videographer, Indelible.
The nature of the brief varies quite radically between clients. Last year, Napier Central Primary School produced a recipe book, the project revealing a strong community focus and lifestyle element that resulted in images of the cooked recipes, alongside young children and families cooking and eating.
The website photography assignment for MYLK, a prepared meals provider, needed to suggest ideas on how the meal could be served – beautiful table settings including flowers, herbs and leaves. She really enjoyed working with owner, Kristy Isaacson, who cooked in her own home kitchen while Florence had free reign with props and styling, to “see” the right angle or composition and take the shot.
Bistronomy in Napier has featured in her work in recent times with a bar food shoot for Cuisine magazine and a photo-shoot of their 2020 menu. It required little styling, just taking images of the meal on the plate as presented by the chef, but with Florence’s creative input lending a sense of place by incorporating their padded seating and table edge into the frame.
Florence comes from a village in the French Alps called Courchevel, 1,800 metres above sea level, that is now a ski resort. “So my grandparents and parents had to grow their own food and make everything themselves because they couldn’t buy goods. They had very large vegetable gardens, cows and goats for milk and meat, hunted for food, they made cider from apples, preserved the vegetables, made jams, and cured the meat,” says Florence. This was her life growing up and it provided a wealth of visual memories that influences her today.
“When I was young, we all helped with harvesting the potatoes (me, my cousin, aunts and uncles and my grandma). We went mushroom harvesting every weekend in autumn and snail picking and foraged for special plants for salads, berries, wild strawberries. We used to walk all the way to the top of the mountains to pick a flower that we used to make an alcohol called Génépi.
“At home, I helped harvest veggies and shell the peas, make jam, and today, I still do this. I love making jam, bread, I have a vegetable garden and fruit trees. My garden was bare when I bought my house last year but I’ve planted lots of edibles.”