This week’s Questions with a Pro features Michael Berman.
Michael is a Brooklyn based photographer specializing in food, portrait, and documentary photography. He is very active on his blog Pizzacentric, which highlights his interest in New York pizzeria culture and very nicely supplements his Pizza, NYC project. Here, Berman tells us a bit about his translucent photography method that he primarily applies to food, his experience with cookbook shoots and his future publishing goals, as well as what led him to food photography in the first place.
We asked: How did you come to specialize in food photography? What background led you to this specialty?
Michael said: I have been working as a photographer for several years, mainly doing portraits, documentary-style, and reportage including a year or two of “full-time freelance” for the NY Daily News, where sometimes I was asked to go photograph food and ambiance at restaurants and bars in NYC. I’ve always had a big passion for food and restaurants (I had worked in restaurants for many years previously, and I like to cook), so I decided to marry my two passions and specialize in food photography. My approach would be fairly simple: to build a portfolio where I would sometimes treat food like a person, and photograph it as a portrait, along with the setting its in (and the people enjoying it).
We asked: How did you decide to apply the translucent concept to your food photography? What type of set does this type of photography require?
Michael said: I was contacted to photograph potato chips for use in a CGI commercial, and they needed light to come shining through the chips, so they could be rotated and manipulated to make it appear like they were raining from the sky. The setup is to light the subject from above and below, using a transparent surface. I build the body of work that’s on my website by beginning with natural ingredients (fruits and vegetables), to test which look best with this approach. A few years ago, there was an article in the NY Times Magazine about, what if vegetables advertised (Broccoli’s Extreme Makeover), so I got it in my head to try photographing veggies in new appealing ways. I also photographed a few simple food preps, where at least one component of a dish was translucent enough to benefit from the lighting.
We asked: How did you acquire the opportunity to publish a cookbook? Was this always a long-term goal of your food photography?
Michael said: I’m pretty sure the publisher found me from a google search. An acquisitions editor contacted me about doing a weeklong shoot for a ramen noodle cookbook. I loved working on it and would be psyched to do more cookbook shoots. That said, I have long wished to publish books of my photographs that I see as documentary. I’m working on a non-food project that I hope will make it into print at some point. The project is that I’m seeking out and re-photographing (and interviewing, sometimes on video) people who I first met and photographed over 17 years ago. They were all strangers who I met in neighborhoods around Manhattan during a 2-month span in late 1999. It’s an amazing diverse group of people.
We asked: How does writing a blog fit into your photography business?
Michael said: I began the blog because I wanted to build up an audience for a book about New York Pizzeria culture that I was working on. The book didn’t get picked up, but I continued adding to the blog for several years as a labor of love. Having the blog has led to some work, mainly from pizzerias, but also other restaurants and even non-food work. Most people like pizza, and many people love to talk about pizza!
We asked: Where do you go outside the photography industry for inspiration and to recharge creatively?
Michael said: I read the news, and I pay attention to what the world is like – culturally and sociologically. I’d love to employ my work (including writing that I do) toward positive impacts on things that concern me. Everybody has their things that they can do, and all sorts of non-photo/art work can do things too. I feel fortunate that I can make good pictures, and see many of the photos I take (non-food photos especially) as one gigantic observation.
Check out more of Michael’s work on his website.