Born in Sweden, 1965.
Since first encountering food photography 15 years ago when approached by upmarket foodie magazine “Gourmet” he has tried to see beyond the stereotypes of food photography. Using almost exclusively natural daylight he has worked with top chefs and clients all over the world transforming dishes and produce into visually thrilling pictures. He also focuses on portraits that touch the soul and reportage images that preserve moments out of the ordinary.
In 2012 he together with his wife founded the magazine Fool, a high end take on gastronomy, quite unlike any other. The magazine was awarded the prize “Best Food Magazine in the World” the same year.
- FUJIFILM X-Pro1
- XF35mmF1.4 R
How do you shoot a living legend?
Michel Bras is the French chef who everybody refers to as the godfather of contemporary cuisine, a chef-philosopher taking inspiration from nature, focusing on a vegetables. 72 years young he recently handed over the role as head chef to his son Sébastien as well as returning the three Michelin stars the restaurant has held since 1999 to ease pressure and get more freedom for the restaurant.
Michel has always had an almost mythic status in the food world. I first saw him ten years ago getting the welcome of a rock star at a food convention. Humble and quiet, with his trademark thin, round metal framed glasses he seemed the most unlikely poster boy for a modern generation of chefs, receiving a standing ovation.
His 1991 book ”Le livre de Michel Bras” features not only recipes and food shots but landscape photography by himself of his beloved Laguiole. On this 1200m high plateau in the south of France the clouds feel closer. There is a quiet gentleness that even affects the animals like the Aubrac cows, unique to this region. It is here Michel found inspiration for iconic dishes like his “Gargouillou”, a 50-60 ingredient vegetable dish, changing daily depending on what is available in the market and at his home garden, a translation of the fields around the restaurant. It is here he goes on his daily runs, keeping fit like few.
French people often resist speaking English and my French is very rudimentary, adding to the anxiety. ”How will I be able to communicate to Michel?”
In order to do interesting portraits of people, especially well known, making a connection is essential. Otherwise you end up shooting the surface only.
I like to push myself as well as my subjects; when you approach the breaking point the really interesting stuff starts to happen. It is about having respect, but not too much. Getting the trust of the subject. To connect.
I rarely bring many props, a stylist or a make up artist to shoots, they just distract me and the subject. I go nuts when someone tries to ”fix” something that is not ”perfect” when i shoot, the slight imperfections are that what make an image interesting. I think we should embrace the not quite so perfect instead of trying to avoid and retouch the hell out of it.
I always try to work around the subject, finding a setting that connects to the person as well as looking for clothes from their own wardrobe. Together with Michel´s wife Ginette we rummaged through his wardrobe, finding a classic blue French workman´s jacket.
-Perfect! I screamed, jumping with joy.
”I hate it…” Michel said.
Eventually we all together managed to convince him to try it on, sitting down by a vintage garden table found in storage, positioned in front of a dark blue wall just behind the restaurant. A makeshift studio created out of what was available, capturing more than only a face. Or a jacket. I love the many different facial expressions of Michel who is often perceived in an almost monk-like way. In the end we actually chose mostly serious images for the story in Fool Magazine subsequently Michel saying “I like them but I am not that serious”. So true. An today I might have edited the images differently.
A great portrait to me should be interesting to anyone looking at it, not depending on who is portrayed. I look for a timeless quality in my photography. Refined but alive.
The best chefs are artists who have the ability to focus the food on the plate, removing, rather than stacking tastes and produce on top of each other.
The same goes for photography, achieving “simplicity” takes time to master. And guts.
The Michel Bras shoot was actually the first major one with the then brand new X-Pro1.
In those early days it was hard even to find a decent RAW converter for the files, still the images looked great. Recently I took another look at the files, did a new edit discovering some nice images and tried out Capture One. Always skeptical to change i was like chocked. There was so much detail in the files, like removing a filter, a new look, new colours and depth, revealing the true potential of the camera and XF35mmF1.4 lens.
Michel Bras collects ideas for recipes in notebooks that he keeps in his office. These collages provide a unique insight into the mind of one of the true geniuses of modern cooking.
The Aubrac landscape is central to the cooking of Michel Bras. Here he not only gets the produce from but the ideas and philosophy.
When shooting in this field Michel disappeared for ten minutes behind the hill.
Suddenly he came running back at full pace, triumphantly saying “I found some mushrooms!”