This painterly account elevates food photography to a fine art worthy of the Dutch Masters.

Ros Atkinson is based in the Cotswolds and likes photographing food. So far, so prosaic, right? Wrong. Because Ros, who goes by @her_dark_materials on Instagram, is the woman behind one of the most achingly beautiful grids we’ve ever had the pleasure of stumbling across.

First of all, we have to give her due recognition for the Philip Pullman reference in her moniker, which is never not going to be a winner in our books. But secondly, and most powerfully, her photographs of food – as well as a handful of other painterly subjects, which are equally atmospheric – are some of the most extraordinary and exquisite we’ve ever clapped eyes upon. This is not a wearisome place for sharing snaps of everyday brunches and dinners. And neither is Atkinson any ordinary cookery photographer.

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A freezer scramble lunch, literally can’t be arsed to move today. Not sure how long the freezer had housed some of these objects, but if a wooley mammoth can be perfectly preserved in a glacier for forty thousand years, I think I’m ok a while. @georgiepuddingnpie crispy @coombefarmorg pork recipe from her first book, noodles, veg and a fragrant pho broth bonanza from @boroughbrothcompany. First harvest of coriander. Technically I was arsed enough to go to the garden, but that is quite enough now. Happy Sunday x #hautecuisines #foodfluffer #feedfeedathome #bonebroth #bonebrothheals #guthealth #organicfood #chooseorganic #noodlesoup #rusticgamestrong #her_dark_materials #nurtureyourself #stirringslowly #organicmeat #coombefarm #guthealthmatters #beefpho #foodphotographyandstyling #easyrecipes #comfortfood #zerowaste #lifeandthyme #thekitchn #onthetableproject #coombefarmcooks

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What @her_dark_materials creates for herself and for her clients – and, indeed, for her little squares – transcends all of that, elevating the documenting of food to an art. By which we don’t simply mean that she makes images that are merely enticing or pretty; rather, her work is most reminiscent of renaissance artwork, in all is Caravaggian chiaroscuro-laden glory. There are, perhaps most prominently, overtones of Vermeer, too, along with echoes of all the Dutch Old Masters.

Take, for example, this beautiful tableau, shot for Crown & Queue Meats, or this table in the fleeting morning light; would either be out of place hanging in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam alongside a host of other Dutch Golden Age masters? We think not. Neither would this nor this be unequal to the task.

The good news is that if you, like us, find yourselves instant suckers for Ros’ still life photography, you can peruse her work and buy prints (priced between £10 for the postcards sized and £90 for A3) over on her website.

This is food and lifestyle photography as fine art. No one has ever made a cake look as glorious as this one, and neither has a plate of scrambled egg – nor one of spaghetti – ever looked this seductive before (and we say this as people who generally find eggs and spaghetti pretty beguiling.) And yet, as with the original 17th-century Dutch Old Masters, it is the darkness that we find so compelling; for these fleeting resplendent banquets and feasts are also memento mori; beautiful and poignant reminders of our own transience. But unlike 400 years ago when, as some believe, these pictures were intended as religious symbolism, we choose instead to read Ros’s images, which drip with seduction, as an invitation to seize the day and enjoy life’s pleasures.

For that, everything you do, Ros Atkinson, you’re our hero.

By Nancy Alsop
July 2020


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Nancy Alsop


Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.