Thursday, March 16, 2017

Photo Shoot for a Cookbook

We were sitting with a mutual friend in the crumbling courtyard 8 months ago on rickety metal chairs around a ridiculous cheese platter, candles dripping into late night puddles of wax, sampling bottles of excellent Beaujolais and Northern Côte du Rhone at will, and reviewing Mardi’s recipe list.  She was honing it down to only the best and appropriate ones for the book she is writing. My suggestion was that she come with her photographer and food stylist to shoot for a week at Plum.

The process of intermingling stories and images on blogs and social media hinges on moments, instants, where a flash idea becomes the structure for something larger. A blog creeps and grows that way, developing in response to immediate surroundings.  You carve out place, you pluck ideas at will.  You enjoy full creative control. You find an old door and step through it, and bring others along.  It’s what blogging is.  It’s what writing is.

I wondered how an author like Mardi Michels, who is also multi-talented artist and photographer in her own right, could accept letting go of the visual aspect of her work.  Handing over a double spaced manuscript without images seems like it must be an act of saintly martyrdom, almost impossibly painful for an author with such a strong visual presence on-line.  

Among other things, Mardi has the most satisfying day job of teaching French language and cooking to grade-school students in Canada.  She travels back and forth between Toronto and Nérac in Southwest France, has a beautiful blog, and is writing a cookbook due out from Appetite by Random House in the summer of 2018.  It’s called “In the French Kitchen with Kids”.  She has an impressive body of work and such passion for what she does, her enthusiasm is infectious.  Just talking with her makes me feel charged and energized. 

Monday afternoon, Dara Sutin, who is styling the photos for the book, went about setting breakfast at the table.  It was a long process.  She placed an item in, pulled another out, adjusted angles, tested colored items, considering various forms.  Kyla Zanardi, the photographer, was focused and silent, working in another mode.  She took test shots that they would hover and consult over, sometimes with simple murmurs or sounds, other times stopping and re-reviewing a composition approach, considering a myriad of editorial requests and placement within the book. 

Throughout the shoot, every object took on multi-dimensional meaning, and each were discussed to varying degrees.  What had always seemed to me to be a burst of creative mastermind from one source, the idea that a visually strong cookbook always involves multi-layered collaborative effort was unfurling in intimate detail before my eyes.  The people who have very specific roles in the cookbook publishing process are now making more sense.  They are of one mind, they work together fluidly, but each contributor offers their part to make a better, more beautiful whole. 

Despite their mindful approach to each shot, they accomplished an incredible amount of work in just a few days.  It must be such a relief to Mardi to see such beautiful progress.  She is here, keeping busy, popping in now and then, finishing the last details of her manuscript, and there are two incredibly talented women styling and shooting the images in her book. There is no question that Mardi trusts them implicitly.  Looking at the images they have produced so far, I know I would trust them too. 


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