In Aaron Tilley’s eyes, food is much more than a source of energy. Rather, he sees each crumb, potato and slice of cheese as a tool for experimentation: “What I love about food, besides the obvious, is the fact that it can be used as playful material, as it can be manipulated or left in its raw form,” he tells It’s Nice That.
A London-based still life photographer known for twisting perceptions of food in his work, his latest couplet of projects is the epitome of this ethos as a creative. The first is a photographic project named Food Landscapes, crafted with food stylist Seiko Hatfield, where wine-infused backdrops frame the artfully curated scenes of chocolate, greens, hummus on crackers, mushrooms and seafood. But these aren’t your typical displays of delicious snacks, instead, Aaron and Seiko have used these ingredients to build imaginative worlds – cropped and composed in a way that invites the viewer into some sort of mythical and edible land, baked with colour and flavour.
And this isn't the first time Aaron has impressed us with his imagery, having graced our screens a couple of years ago for his project The Odd Couple, a still life series made with art director Sandy Suffield that’s inspired by Niki Segnit’s cookery book, The Flavour Thesaurus: Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook. Ever since, food has remained a constant fascination for Aaron, which is exactly what we’re observing in these latest endeavours. “Food can be composed in a traditional way or made into something totally abstract and taken completely out of context,” he adds. “With Food Landscapes, we really wanted to celebrate the incredible materiality of food and present it in a way that felt like a study of nature with the forms and textures of an abstract landscape.”
Materiality is at the crux of Aaron’s practice, one that involves celebrating textures and challenging the ways in which we look at specific objects or food. He’s also long been an admirer of Seiko’s work, having first laid eyes on her talents in an early issue of The Gourmand. “I was blown away by her attention to detail,” he notes, then reaching out to her to see if she was interested in collaborating. “And thankfully she was!” From thereon, the duo have worked on a few other projects prior to Food Landscapes, which was formed from a list of texturally rich foods they both thought would work structurally. “Seiko had some brilliant ideas on pairings that would work from a taste perspective as well as visually, such as chocolate with walnuts and nutmeg.”
When it came to the lighting specifically, Aaron opted for something more dramatic; something that would highlight the intriguing textures of the materials. “From the cracked shard-like chocolate, to the crusty bread and crisp crackers, the lighting had to give them depth and form, making them feel very tactile and at the same time delicious.” A well-lit set was then matched with a simple yet shapely set, constructed by his assistant Alex who’s “a dab hand with a jigsaw”. This set was then housed amongst a range of cinematic borders, an idea that arose after visiting to Japan a couple of years ago and one he’s wanted to incorporate for some time now. “I’m a little bit obsessed with Japanese gardens and visited a lot while I was there,” adds Aaron, who found the windows and doors of the temples and tea houses would frame these gardens perfectly. “The view becomes almost like an ever-changing painting, and it demands you to stop, pause and observe the beauty outside.”
Food Landscapes is at once playful and painterly. While observing this series, Aaron hopes that you’ll find a sense of calmness to the work – the antithesis to the over-saturation of imagery ingested in our daily online lives. His other project, Elements of Taste, equally raises a level of serenity throughout its fascinating compositions. Based on the idea of visualising the five primary taste sensations – sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami – Aaron deconstructed each meaning into a high-contrast and illusory set of images. He wanted to see how they might look “if they existed as a physical entity”, testing whether or not the viewer would think of saltiness or bitterness when viewing the visuals. “And from the comments I’ve had it seems to have worked.”
Aaron Tilley and Seiko Hatfield: Food Landscapes; Chocolate (Copyright © Aaron Tilley, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.