Table Talk: An interview with Jean Cazals, food photographer

Winner of the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year Award 2012, Jean Cazals' ‘Black Pigs' - entered into the ‘Food in the Field' category - was picked from over 3,000 images, submitted from over 60 countries. Raised in France, Cazals now lives in London, but his inspiration is food. His work has appeared in magazines, books and advertisements for a variety of high profile clients. We caught up with him to talk about his winning image and life as a food photographer.

I was 19 when I discovered... how long it would take to become a heart surgeon. I thought archaeology might be boring, so I decided to become a professional photographer instead.

I started... by shooting portraits then moved to food in the late 90s. Being brought up in France, food was a huge part of my life, and it made sense to turn my lens on it. Being a food photographer is a wonderful thing to do between lunch and dinner!

Unlike people, food doesn't answer back to you… and that makes it a good subject. Food is very varied and allows me to meet people and travel, which I love as well.

There is no secret to taking a great food photograph… which is good or it would be too easy. It's like a recipe - the magic happens with all the ingredients at a certain moment. Some people might not like a picture that I do, but at the end of the day, you have to follow your own rhythm and integrity.

Lighting is key... and this applies to photography in general. Personally, I like to use daylight - it's always been the natural choice for me. I can recreate this in a studio, but you can't beat the real thing.

Styling, food and lighting are a marriage... The angle and the distance are important too, but sometimes a good photograph just happens. You can prepare for your shoot as well you like, but I always leave room for spontaneity.

Souffles are difficult to shoot because of timing… they never do what you want. Ice cream is the same. Usually, the challenge comes because the right looks happens instantly and cannot be controlled and stay there, but these issues have been reduced tremendously thanks to digital.

Raw food is more ingredients-based and always a pleasure to shoot... cooked food depends on the nature of the dish, but I like both and always try to make the shot look as good as possible, obviously. Sometime the less is more approach to styling helps a lot.

My favourite kind of commission is… the ‘do your own thing' type of commission. That said, I like the challenge of commissions and they give my work purpose. I'm lucky that I have opportunity to work with great people who often leave me to get on with it, but team work is important too. I always look forward to a shoot where I can share ideas.

I remember the good moments and forget the bad ones… There will always be shoots that cause problems - not always due to food but because of weather, timings, props, people, egos and so on. These can usually be solved though!



'The Black Pigs - Food in the Field' was shot in Gascony, France as part of… an award-winning book for Pascal Aussignac's restaurant, Club Gascon. Pascal is a great chef and friend. We were going through the various products of the area and the pigs from Bigorre, which are very famous for their ham, were on the list.

They are small pigs… and very friendly - they all came running at me in the field! The magic of this shot came from the light at that moment - just before it started raining. The sky was low and the light was so soft.

I came in low with a 24mm/2.8 on my Canon 5 D... The light allowed me to capture all the details and subtleties of the pig skin, the grass and so on. The fact that you can't see the eyes of the pigs brings a certain mystery to the shot, I think.

My camera is always… by my side, like a watch. I never get bored - there's always a shot to take somewhere or somehow. When a plate is served to me, I do look at it through an imaginative view finder - luckily my partner is a great food stylist!

My first coffee table book as an author in my own right… comes out next month. It's called Tea Time and looks at the best places for tea in London - perfect for the Jubilee and the Games!

1 May 2012


Emily Jenkinson
2013