Ever been tempted to dip your olives in white chocolate? Or maybe you’ve had a craving for cumin with your apricots, or hankered after a caffeine hit of coffee to complement your goats cheese? In a photography project entitled The Odd Couple, art director Sandy Suffield and photographer Aaron Tilley are paying homage to Niki Segnit’s innovative cookery book, The Flavour Thesaurus: Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook. In a series of sleek and stylised still lifes, Sandy and Aaron turn some of the book’s most intriguing (and peculiar) flavour combinations into photographic compositions that have all the succulence of commercial food photography, paired with the luxuriousness of a fashion editorial and the sculptural elegance of fine art.
Speaking of how the collaboration between himself and Aaron came about, Sandy says: “We knew we wanted to shoot food together, so we just hatched some ideas over coffee one morning. A friend had given me Niki’s book and I thought it would give us the perfect, unlikely subject matter.” The project, he continues, “allowed us both to indulge in our shared love of colour, our interest in sculptural forms, the coherence of a simple idea and a bit of gentle humour.”
As you might imagine, photographing food is no mean feat, given its tendency to spoil, slump, melt or discolour. Sandy admits that “the eggs and spuds gave us a bit of grief. There’s always some re-composing of all the elements until the balance is right.” Although the pair have collaborated many times before, they were up against new challenges when it came to composing shots that brought out the aesthetic qualities of the food at the same time as appealing to viewers’ palates.
As Sandy tells it: “We shot three versions of the eggs and spuds and finally landed on a simple crowd of them coming together – the other two attempts just ended up looking a bit laboured. Making ‘coffee castles’ was tricky and smashing heavy slabs of white chocolate is surprisingly hard; corralling slippery olives into position was a challenge too. Aaron made sure that the lighting captured the glossiness of the olives and the fractured texture of the chocolate. The focus on these details was designed to help viewers imagine the flavour combinations. We had a couple of goes at the powdered cumin, it’s not something you can be timid with – it’s got to be thrown confidently. The studio was a delicious-smelling mess!”
The results are certainly compelling, with the attention to form and texture delivering satisfying resonances and alignments among the different foods. But what we really want to know is: how do they taste?! Sandy tells us: “We tried plenty when we were shooting; we consumed a sizeable chunk of white chocolate and loads of olives. We concentrated on the most unlikely combinations, as the title The Odd Couple suggests. The exception was the egg and potato duo – these were just a bit of a gift in their similar size and the positive-negative of the white eggs with the black potatoes. We edited down the combinations by choosing pairings with strong relationships – beautiful colour combinations, interesting textures and sculptural shapes. After the shoot, I made a curry using the apricots and cumin with chickpeas.”
We have to admit, there’s something oddly attractive in the fluffy florets of cauliflower against the dark sheen of melted chocolate, the lustre of olives alongside the craggy summits of white chocolate, the soft towers of goats cheese paired with crumbly pillars of coffee. Sandy says: “It’s more conceptual than lots of food photography but we’ve tried to retain a sense that the food is appetising, not just beautiful.” Our eyes and tastebuds are definitely persuaded. But then again – the writers at It’s Nice That will eat anything that’s got chocolate in it.