Eric Wolfinger: Beyond the Plate follows Wolfinger's passion for food and travel, and how it drove him, a bit indirectly, to become one of the world's best food photographers. It's quite a ride, and along the way we learn about surfing, travel to Tanzania, and go into the kitchen as Eric makes chocolate from raw ingredients.
Eric spent several years cooking and baking professionally before stepping behind the lens. Over a dozen books and a James Beard nomination later, he continues to find passion in his work. He was kind enough to spend a few minutes with DPReview to talk about his journey, how he approaches photography, and what it felt like to be in front of the camera instead of behind it.
If you'd like to hear more from Eric, you can watch his presentation from our re:FRAME series of talks. It's a great lesson in humility, passion, and the importance of following your dreams.
How did you become a food photographer?
I always say that I came to photography through the kitchen door. While I was a traveler at heart, my first professional pursuit was in the kitchen, because I love cooking and I wanted to be in that world in some capacity.
About ten years ago I took a trip to South America and gave myself my dream job, which at that point in my life was to be a traveling food journalist. I took off for a year and wrote dispatches on a blog about interesting things I encountered, people I met, and experiences that were inevitably shaped by food.
I had a camera with me because I knew that to tell a good story, I had to accompany it with photos. I never thought anything would come from the photos because I really wanted to be a writer. I was hoping that Gourmet Magazine would pick me up as a staff journalist, but Gourmet never called.
|Photo by Eric Wolfinger|
When I returned from South America, Chad Robertson, my mentor at Tartine Bakery where I had apprenticed, invited me to come back to San Francisco to bake with him and help him create his book about bread. He had seen my work and realized that maybe his buddy, who knew bread at a granular level and could help him articulate his methods, would be a great collaborator.
As we were crafting the proposal, he had the idea that I should shoot the book as well. He felt that I could bring a visual perspective to the book that no other photographer could, because I knew bread better than any photographer. It was an opportunity I never asked for and never expected, but he saw something in my work that gave him confidence in me. The result was the book Tartine Bread.
We often think of food photography as being about the food, but your work frequently extends to tell the story behind the food. How do you uncover the human element when you shoot a project?
My interest in food goes beyond the recipe. It's rooted in my desire to travel and connect with the world as I encounter it. The best way I’ve always known to connect with people is through food, whether I’m cooking for them or sharing a meal at a table or a street stall. For me, food has always been the best way to start to get to know a person or place.
Of course, as a photographer I’m going to get into the nuances and every little aspect of what makes a dish special, but the food itself is only part of the story. There’s a person who made that food, a place where they come from, and there’s a story to all of that. My interest is in teasing out that story and connecting with it through photography.
|Photo by Eric Wolfinger|
When taking on a project, what type of preparation do you do?
I’m afraid to say that I don’t do a lot of preparation. Every time I arrive on a job or to a new place, I often have this moment where I’m like 'Uh oh, I should have prepared more.' But at the same time, I always want to have a healthy sense of improvisation going in to every new project. Once I’m thrown into the mix I’m very inquisitive and I’m comfortable thinking on my feet and figuring things out. I think that allows me to bring a real freshness to each project that I do.
People are different all over the world, but one thing we have in common is that we all have to eat. How does food help us find commonalities and bring people together?
I think food is the universal language that every human speaks. Even a smile can be misinterpreted, but the sharing of a meal and the enjoyment of that meal is universal. One of the things I love about food, and my chosen path, is that even though I don’t necessarily speak Vietnamese, or Thai, or Lao, or even French very well, I can still immerse myself in those places and connect with people through food. Sharing a meal with somebody is the first step you can take to build empathy with a person .
If I could communicate one message to people all over the world it might be ‘stay calm and have a meal with your neighbor.’ I know that sounds a little bit naive given all the craziness that’s going on in the world today. But what do two world leaders do the first time they meet? They often have a meal together. There’s this bond that we create when we share a meal, and that’s the first step towards friendship.
|Photo by Eric Wolfinger|
You’re used to being behind the camera. What was it like to turn the tables and be the subject of a film?
When SmugMug asked to do a film about me I was skeptical. As someone who’s dabbled in filmmaking, I know how hard it is to tell a really good story. But when I saw Anton’s [filmmaker Anton Lorimer] previous work I was blown away. The production quality was amazing. I thought he had an army of people working on these films, and I came to discover that it was an army of one. Literally, the credit sequence of this film will be one name: Anton Lorimer.
Getting to know Anton I immediately felt like I was in good hands. I can only liken it to what a doctor must feel like the first time they go into a hospital as a real patient, and they say to themselves 'Oh my gosh, I hope these people try as hard to do a good job on me as I do for others.' I had a sense very early in the production that I was in good hands.
It was a huge learning experience for me. I was in front of the camera, but I was watching the techniques Anton would use to draw the story out from me. It reinforced the importance of the connection you form with your subject. You have to reach a level of trust where you can share revealing or sensitive material and trust each other to use it right. The quality of the film is not only a testament to his skills as a filmmaker, but also to the trust I developed in him. Moving forward, that’s something I aspire to.
|Photo by Eric Wolfinger|
What are you working on now? Do you have any upcoming projects to share?
My collaboration with Anton really inspired me to go back to the basics and take my own filmmaking to a new place. I’ve done a lot of commercial work with large crews, but I never imagined I could get great production quality without a huge crew. Anton proved to me that not only can you do that with an army of one, but that you can tell a more honest story because your production is not intrusive. What he taught me was that I could actually make a film the way I like to take photos: one guy with a camera.
This experience making a film with SmugMug has really pushed me creatively to try new things, and I’ve recently started work on two documentary projects: Yo Soy Mezcal is a project I'm working on in Mexico, and I have another one in Japan called Dashi Journey.
Jul 11, 2017
Jul 21, 2017
Jul 20, 2017
Jul 18, 2017
|Devil Rock (Stuttgart, Germany) by cornissimo|
from Neon Signs
|Carla... by lickity split|
from Beautiful caucasian female faces
|Lunar New Year Fireworks by Michael L NYC 99|
|Vatican Basilica by wam7|
from Street lights
DPReview staffer Carey Rose has taken the Panasonic Leica DG 15mm F1.7 along for everything from a city-side boat ride to a bachelor party across the mountains. Find out how the little Leica fared.
Canon just unveiled the largest 12-ink printer on the market. The new imagePROGRAF PRO-6000 printer can make prints from 17 all the way up to 60 inches wide.
"Standing in one of the holiest places on earth, I felt uneasy," writes Wired's Jason Parham. "Most of my fellow visitors, I realized with a brief bloom of nausea, were taking selfies."
Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk has been receiving great reviews, but it's a challenge to see it in its full glory. This handy infographic reveals the aspect ratio chaos that is wrought as the industry retreats from film.
Anti-bullying organization Ditch the Label's Annual Bullying Survey 2017 reveals yet again that Instagram, more so than any other social network, has a the worst effect on youth mental health.
It's been a crazy day for innovative patent news. Apparently Sony is thinking of developing a medium format curved sensor camera.
An update to the Silkypix Raw converter fixes some bugs and adds support for several popular new cameras.
This crazy custom-built underwater camera shoots 8x10 large format film. It's supposedly "the first successful underwater 8x10 ever made," and it can be yours for $5,800... plus shipping.
Blackmagic just reveled a new accessory for their Cintel Film Scanner. The Cintel Audio and KeyKode Reader can capture KeyKode data and high-quality audio from film in real-time as it is being scanned.
A new Nikon patent shows a lens designed for a curved full-frame sensor. Could this be the high-end Nikon mirrorless camera people are hoping for?
The ability to shoot images at 1,000 fps first appeared in a Sony smartphone sensor. Now the Japanese manufacturer is using the same feature for industrial applications.
Astronomy expert and photographer Dr. Tyler Nordgren thinks you should "see your first eclipse, photograph your second." But if you do plan on taking photos this August, here are a few tips from someone who's been there.
How confident are you that you can spot a manipulated photo? A recent study at the University of Warwick shows that many people are pretty bad at it.
If you purchased a Leica TL2, do NOT attach Leica's Visoflex electronic viewfinder. Leica is working on a fix, but for now, it's possible the viewfinder will break your camera.
Google just released Motion Stills for Android. Unlike the iOS version, the Android app uses a redesigned video processing pipeline that processes each frame of a video as it is being recorded, creating instant results.
A huge copyright lawsuit between photography firm VHT and Zillow Group is heating up again, as both sides appeal a court ruling that granted VHT $4 million in damages.
European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet spent 6 months on board the International Space Station where he worked with Google capturing spheric panorama images that are now available in Street View.
It's official. PDN has confirmed with parent company Aurelius that 94-year-old lighting company Bowens is indeed going out of business.
The newly launched firmware version 1.06 fixes AF-issues that can occur with some lenses that are not officially compatible with the MC-11 converter.
Voyager is a waterproof smart light stick you can control entirely from your phone. The light has already blown past its $300K funding goal on Indiegogo.
2018 is the last year Photokina will take place during the traditional end-of-September dates. In 2019, Photokina will take place from the 8th to the 11th of May.
The Canon IXUS 50 (known as the SD400 Digital ELPH in North America) was one of a string of high-performing, pocketable PowerShots of the mid-2000s. In this week's throwback Thursday, Barney casts his mind back to 2005.
A close look at the EOS 6D II's Raw files suggest its dynamic range has taken a significant step backwards compared with the company's recent DSLRs. We look at how much difference this might make for your photos.
With a full-production review unit in our hands, we've got over 100 production samples from the new Canon EOS 6D Mark II to share.
Need a break from your day? Kick back and watch the making of a somewhat unconventional mojito filmed on Canon's new EOS 6D Mark II.
The Bonfoton Camera Obscura Room Lens can turn any room into a camera obscura, projecting the view from your window onto the walls of your room.
Adobe just released version 2015.12 of Lightroom CC, adding support for several new cameras and lenses, and baking in several important bug fixes while they were at it.
In this interview, Chiara Marinai, photo editor for VanityFair.com, explains exactly what she looks for in new photographers and photo submissions. Take notes.
Massive corporation P&G is being sued by a Cincinnati photographer for serious copyright violations. If the courts rules against P&G, the company could pay as much as $75 million in damages.
Snapchat's camera-equipped 'Spectacles' aren't so difficult to get anymore. You can now pick up a pair through Amazon for $130.