I know I’m not alone when I say that Andrea Gentl of Gentl and Hyers is one of the people that I look up to as a photographer. Her ability to take photos with amazing light and shadows is just truly breathtaking. Reading what she has to say about photography and her inspirations really REALLY encourages me to be better with my work.
Q. Can you tell me what you’re trying to capture when you take your food photos?
A. When I am photographing food I am trying to capture something that is beautiful, evocative and tasty. Sometimes that comes through in the smallest of details… a drip or a crumb, a bit of spilled salt or a ghostly wafting steam.
In a larger sense I am always keeping light and composition in mind. I am drawn to the light of the Dutch Masters and have spent a lot of time looking at light and paintings from that time period. I am also very influenced by memory and personal experience. I draw a lot of inspiration from the experiences of my childhood in Western Mass. I was a bit of a free-range child, running wild in the woods and on a small family farm. I lived in very old houses all my life. My father is an antique dealer, so objects and interiors and have always had a certain reverence for me. The idea of beauty in the normal or mundane has always appealed to me. I spent a lot of time as a kid really looking at things. I was kind of shy and in my head a lot. The things that informed my thoughts then, still appeal to me now, a tangled bramble of berries, a loaf of bread on the counter, a spill or a stain, these bits of everyday un-styled life have always caught me eye and support and sustain my work today. They are where I find my inspiration.
Q. How did you get started with photography?
A. My dad gave me an old Nikormat when I was 13 and it was pretty much love at first sight. I then went on to study sculpture and photography at UMass Amherst and then later transferred to Parsons in New York where I moved onto larger formats both 4×5 and 8×10. I was married at 24 and not really getting to spend much time with my husband, Martin Hyers because we were both assisting other people and he was traveling quite a bit. I was assisting an amazing stylist (Suzanne Shaker) and he was assisting a photographer (William Abranowicz) who was always on the road. The photographer he was working with (who also happened to be one of our past Parsons professors) suggested that we try to shoot together. It seemed like a good way to spend time together so we gave it a try. There were very few teams at that time. We decided to shoot food and travel as we thought that was sort of “neutral turf”. At the time I was shooting 8×10 portraits and he was shooting musicians. So we chose something new where there would be no conflicts to our “personal style”. This of course proved to be a bit ridiculous because if you love what you do you put your all into it, no matter what. We put a portfolio together and there was really no looking back. Our styles meshed and informed one another then as they do today. The photographer and stylist we worked with at the time were very supportive. They really mentored us and ushered us into the working world. We are forever grateful to them. We try to maintain that same approach with our own assistants.
Q. Why did you pick it as your career?
A. I loved photography so instantly from the first moment I saw a photograph come alive before my eyes in developer. I really feel it chose me. I never thought about another career.
Q. What is photography to you and how has it evolved through the years?
A. Photography has evolved as far as gear and pixels go, but the core of it remains the same. Light and composition are the two essential elements that will hold strong no matter the gear or technological advance. Being able to see light is one of the most important aspects to being a good photographer.
The move to digital for us was relatively seamless. We did have to work out our own system for archiving and storage and that is ever evolving. Storage is the biggest issue we face as we cart around our “herds” of drives. I am pretty excited by new gear and technology but I do love to return to my 8×10 Deardorff, which is about as archaic as it gets these days. I have been working on a long-term series of friends and family in 8×10.
Photography has evolved as well in a sense that there are more photographers now than ever. Digital has been the great leveler. Anyone can afford a relatively decent camera these days and the number of images being uploaded to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram per second is mind blowing. We are living in an all-exposing age. We see and have access real time to anything and everything that we all do. This is one of the most significant changes in the world of photography. When we first started we had no idea what other photographers were doing or what their portfolios might be like. Editorial line-ups were a total secret. Now they are splashed all over the place in a sneak peek behind the scenes kind of way. We need only click to see what the world is doing in real time. I think this makes people produce work faster and in a more disposable way. I try to stay level headed in the face of all this imagery. I try to make pictures that come from my own vision and inspiration. It is not always easy, but I believe if you stay true to yourself and do not chase others you will be happier for it. You will find that you have an endless well of inspiration that comes from within.
Q. What inspires you?
A. Everything inspires me! I am inspired by; my family, my children, my friends, travel, nature, wild foods, the seasonal and the local, music, film and everyday life. Making my personal work really inspires me and as I said before it informs my commercial work. I love to shoot these days for my blog. It is a place where I can try things out and exercise new ideas. I love to pull out my Deardorff and shoot my friends and their babes. I love the looking back at the evolution of images over time. Someone once told me the first photo you make will be similar to your last. I think this is true. I have taken the same photo many times over the years. There are recurring themes that spring up time and time again and threads that wind their way through personal work into commercial. It is difficult to make a distinction between personal and commercial because when you love what you do you give your all to it no matter what. I always bring bits of my personal work into my commercial jobs it is impossible to keep them separate. There is also whole bevy of young bloggers I find immensely inspiring. They are constantly amazing me with their solid work, writing tenacity and drive!
Q. Any food photography heroes? If not any photography heroes?
A. I adore Irving Penn for his brilliant simplicity and timeless photographs. His work informs many a photographer and art director. I love Sally Mann for her dark, cerebral, intimate portraits and landscapes. I look to Emmet Gowin’s early work for emotional inspiration and to Morandi the Italian painter for composition. I look more at fine art photographers than contemporary ones these days but from my many talented peers, if I had to pick a few I admire, I would say Frederic Legrange for his gorgeous travel, Henrik Knudsen for is stark Nordic light, Ditte Isager for her unwavering style, Marcus Nilsson for his gritty and real approach to food and Anna Williams for her impeccable Voracity project.
Q. Best meal in 2012?
A. This is a hard one, because last year I had such good food while on the road for work. We had amazing meal at Faviken Magasinet in Northern Sweden from Chef Magnus Nillson, while on assignment for Conde Nast Traveler. I also ate the best ceviche I have ever had in Lima Peru last year!
This year, I have been a little closer to home. Meals have been with family and friends. We did have a pretty brilliant impromptu suckling pig roast at out loft one evening this past spring. All the stars aligned along with the juniper-pickled onions and it was a super mellow memorable evening with friends old and new. I did just take my dad and his 78-year-old cousin to Maison Premiere in Williamsburg for oyster and ceviche. It was memorable afternoons watching this older generation of New Yorkers eat oysters amidst the hipsters and mustached waiters. When we left they told me how much they loved that “that clam bar” so Maison will forever be the clam bar to me. Sometimes it is just about the people you are with.