The art of food photography: Alessandro Guerani
The visual importance of food, and the difficulty of food photography
I spend a lot of my life looking at food.
I look at the fruit and vegetables so beautifully and carefully stacked in the market stalls forming masses of color and myriads of shapes. I look at the “masterpieces” of the great chefs who take so much care to artfully arrange the food on the plates so that it is as visually tempting as it is appetizing.
Without much success, I try my hand at photographing these beauties for my MarketDay and restaurant posts, but I never get it right. And when I develop recipes, I make the most embarrassingly amateur photos of what actually does taste good in the mouth, despite the lifeless-looking photo with its hit-or-miss compositions.
My point is that food photography is not as easy as it might seem. Like any photography or art form, you need the right lighting, composition and contrasts of colors. And above all, you need talent and a good, trained eye.
In my case, I often make everyone at the table wait to start eating while I try and get it just right, because I simply lack the true artistic talent and technical skills that it requires. That might partially be explained by the fact that I ran away from the classroom at the Cordon Bleu every time we had to arrange flowers, set tables, and do presentations, so what should I expect?
I look at food blogs and food photography, and no matter how much I look, my favorite photographer never seems to change. I think the secret of Alessandro Guerani’s success as a food photographer is that he is also a cook. He develops recipes and thinks with his taste buds, just like me, but he has the added gift of being capable of capturing visual beauty and essence, in the manner of the Flemish and Italian masters.
Food is not, after all, only a story of taste
Food is not, after all, only a story of taste. It is about texture and how it feels in your mouth. It is about whether it looks appetizing, how it is presented on the plate. It is about the smells coming from the kitchen, gently seducing you to the table, and the taste you have while it’s in your mouth and the aftertaste that lingers. It can even be about sound, for example, when the alcohol goes up in flames as they flambé your crêpes Suzette.
The enjoyment of food is a coming together of all the senses, and when all the senses are happy and content, you come away from the table satisfied.
About the photographer, Alessandro Guerani
Alessandro Guerani was born in Bologna, Italy, in 1969, where he still lives. He started using cameras at the age of twenty while studying Medieval and Renaissance art history.
After college, Alessandro worked as an intern in a professional photography studio, and that’s where it all seems to have come together. Afterward, it was clear to him that food and still life photography were his calling.
But the underlying secret of Alessandro’s success is not as simple as that. He obviously has an exceptional visual sense and the technical skills required to turn this into art, but he also loves good food, especially traditional Italian cuisine, with its multitude of flavors and combinations. As a result, he knows how to make all the senses come alive in a seemingly simple photograph.
Guerani is a master of lighting, and is meticulous about every visual detail. His photos are full of color and contrast, making them rich and full of depth. They sometimes verge on the Medieval, and at other times, on the Renaissance or the Baroque. At still other times, they are spartan and ultra-contemporary, but they are always beautiful. And they always make my mouth water and my eye twinkle.
But above all, they are more than food photography. They are art. Slide-showing through his photos on my large-screen iMac truly makes feel like I’m walking through an art gallery. In the photos above, the vegetables, carrots and artichokes are worthy of a Chardin; the silver filigree platter with apricots is as rich in tone, texture and contrast as the great Italian Renaissance painters; the intermingling of the blue and white tones in the third photograph, so beautifully composed, bring back memories of blue Delft, French faience, and luxurious Italian country linen tablecloths. The knife handle is pointed toward the viewer, inviting the viewer to pick it up and take a taste.
True art is when all the criteria come together in a perfect balance. Guerani not only captures the image of the object he is photographing. He understands the very essence of its beauty and calls on every sense, thus making it much more than a simple picture on your run-of-the-mill food blog.
Mindful Eating: Get serious about what you put in your mouth!
Mindful Eating means getting serious about what you put in your mouth.
You don’t have to think with your taste buds every minute of your life, like I do, but eating takes on a new importance in your life, and is no longer just an essential action required to fuel your body.
Mindful Eating starts by being mindful of every aspect of our food chain, from the very soil to the end product we put in our mouths. It is about taste and smell and nutrition, but also about respect for the land and soil that provide our nourishment.
It is about the seeds we plant, the fertilizer we spread.
It is about the human contact between a producer and a buyer and the bond that is formed when he puts the vegetables he has grown with tender loving care and the sweat of his brow into your hand. It is about leaving the land in a condition that will allow our children to live on in a healthy manner.
Guest blogger Alessandro Guerani is a professional photographer specialized in food photography. He lives in Bologna, Italy. Alessandro may well be my favorite food photographer. His photos are truly art. Every single photo is a work of exquisite visual beauty, and they also make my mouth water.
Alessandro Guerani’s quick and easy recipe for spicy baked pears with thyme crème fraîche
A fruit-based dessert that is tasty, quick to prepare and can be easily stored in the refrigerator for days. Impossible? No it isn’t; read on.
Alessandro got this idea from a menu written by Gordon Ramsey, who used apples, and the crème fraiche was flavored with mint.
Alessandro wanted to give it an Italian hint, so preferred to use pears, because of their sweetness, and let the thyme and lemon zest in the cream counterbalance the sweetness of the pears, without overwhelming them.
Ingredients (serves 4)4 medium-sized pears
375 grams / 1½ cups dark brown cane sugar 4 dl / 1½ cups water 2 cinnamon sticks
3 star anise
2 dl / 1 cup crème fraîche
½ teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F.
Peel the pears. Keep the stem for use as decoration.
Melt the brown sugar in water over low heat.
Add cinnamon and anise. Bring to a boil and boil for for 4-5 minutes to make a syrup.
Place the pears in a baking dish. Pour syrup over pears.
Bake for about 30-45 minutes, basting the pears with the syrup from time to time.
When the pears are tender, but still maintain their shape, remove from the oven.
Leave to cool.
Whip crème fraiche, thyme and lemon zest together in a mixing bowl.
Arrange still-warm pears on serving plates. Pour syrup over pears. Insert stem in pear for decorative purposes. Garnish with crème fraîche.