It’s hard not to be drawn in by Beth Kirby’s photos. Her command of the light and shadow is amazing. And also the feeling I get from her photos, the mood, the subject, the color…really inspires me. Making the mundane sacred, she writes below, is quite important especially nowadays. We live in a time when we’re constantly plugged in and there are so many things going on in the world. Some times you really need to just do something mundane and put all your heart into it.
Q. Can you tell me what you’re trying to capture when you take your food photos?
A. A narrative. A slow, quiet story. An accessible, mundane romance. The opposite of eating in your car. What I mean by all of that is that I’m trying to capture the idea that we can all carve out a space in our lives for tea, baking from scratch, a trip to the market—all the things that don’t just make for more delicious & healthful food but the things that replenish our psychological and spiritual reserves. While we can replenish those in pointedly meditative ways, I believe that by making the mundane sacred, we are constantly nurturing ourselves. That’s what I try to capture when I take a photo be it of a meal or the table it will go on: the sacred in the mundane.
Q. What is photography to you?
A. First and foremost, like all art, it’s an abstraction. A once removed representation of another thing. Remembering that the photograph is not the thing, but that rather the photograph is an entirely new thing, is more helpful than it may sound. Secondly, it’s light. Photons. Every photo I take considers light and shadow first and foremost. Then comes composition. Content is almost incidental. I think light and composition write the story of the photo, not the content. That’s what photography is to me as a photographer. As a cook. photography is how I share my food with those I cannot feed. I don’t just aim for “food porn”; it’s not just the flavors and textures of the food I want to convey. I want to convey a moment, what it would be like to make it together, to sit down and share it. As a cook, the content becomes more of a factor. Those two sides, photographer and cook, meet in most of my work, always a balancing act between form and content.
Q. How did you get started in photography and how has your relationship with photography evolved from then to now?
A. It was being a cook that led me to photography. I wanted a way to share my recipes, and I realized that a cursory click and all the writing in the world just wouldn’t do it. I had to learn photography. But then something happened; it was like I discovered a new muscle. I took to it instantly, began to see light differently every where I went, and it evolved from there. At first it was just a means to an end, a means to share recipes. Now it is an art form all it’s own, intertwined with yet independent from my cooking.
Q. Do you think places affect a photographer’s style? Has Tennessee affected you in any way as a photographer?
A. Yes. I think place affects everything. There’s more to the south than meets the eye. There’s a darkness, and there’s a warmth. There’s hospitality and hostility. It’s a place defined by conflict and humidity. I love the south; I want to reinvent the south. Those two sentiments, both deeply held simultaneously, are what drive so much of my creative work, photography included. I aim to capture the rustic mess that is the south, probably because it’s also how I define myself. I’m one part honeysuckle nectar and swamp water, one part spicy cornmeal breading and leathery collards. Where we are, just like when we are, is a lens we see through. And as such, how could it not affect the literal lens?
Q. Any food photography heroes? If not any photography heroes?
A. I’m very inspired by the work of Andrea Gentl, Ditte Isager, & Anna Williams. Also, from the beginning, Brian Ferry and the way he treats light were inspiring. I think his work along with the work of Uta Barth made me rethink my approach. For the blog, I still have a more commercial and content driven approach, but personally I’m more interested in light and lines. I also love the work of Tim Robison, Laura D’art, Michael Graydon, Marcus Nilsson, and Luisa Brimble. Before I ever picked up a camera, I was introduced to William Eggleston and Stephen Shore—they remain favorites and influences today.
Q. Best meal you had in 2013?
A. I was introduced to Korean BBQ by a wrangler named Jeff when I was out filming Masterchef in L.A. this past winter. It was a revelation. Spicy large intestine grilled over charcoals changed my life. You don’t find a lot of that here in Tennessee.