Unusually for a photographer I very much like cookery books without photographs. Photographs of food can be very misleading in that the reader may assume that the image on the page reflects the recipe writer’s view of the intended appearance of a dish, and if our reader’s attempt is not equal, or at least similar, to this image then there is a sense of failure. In the real world it is unusual for the author of the recipes to be present at the photography sessions involved in the production of their book, and if they are present they will normally bow to the opinions of art directors, stylists and photographers. There is no right way to illustrate how something tastes as each viewer interprets a picture in their own way. Words, written by the author of the recipe, tell it how it is which is why I like words. Words lead me to cook a dish, and then I photograph it. The photograph is to do with imagery, light and colour and the food is to do with satisfaction, deliciousness and good company. With this in mind I remember reading Colman Andrew’s “Catalan Cuisine” back in the 80’s, when I had just started serious food photography, and marvelling at her words when she stated that there were no photographs in the book because all Catalan food is brown. It may seem a trite statement, and it was certainly said tongue in cheek, but this picture of Sopa de Garbanzos, a chickpea and spinach soup from “Casa Moro”, pretty much proves her point about the colour of such food, and the art of the photographer is in finding or creating light that will show whatever beauty this, very brown, soup has to its best advantage. A bit like wedding photography, I suppose.
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If you like cookbooks without photos, try Marcella hazan’s essential italian cookery. I did whole fish stuffed with seafood in my bl
I’m a real admirer of Marcella Hazan and Claudia Roden – both produce wonderfully researched and tested recipes.
That is a very good recipe! I like cookbooks with photos.
That’s a good thing too:)
I just love cookbooks full stop. Sometimes the simple earthy “brown” dishes hide the most taste, I love the precision in this dish too, especially the 60 threads of saffron. If it contained 59 or 61 then this dish would not be perfect.
Thanks for sharing.
It’s very satisfying to read a comment such as yours – thanks.
I like cookbooks written in narrative form. in Chez Jaques, Pepin tells the reader, right up front, that there will be no “Ingredient list/method” format in the book, because people don’t read through before starting if it’s written that way. Instead, the recipe is woven into a few paragraphs, along with the dish’s history, or place in his life.
It’s the book I go back to, over and over.
There are photos of most, but not all, of the dishes. They’re not intimidating, restaurant-esque photos, though…most look like good ol’ home cookin’. Kinda’ like your Bowl o’ Brown…
I have a copy of Pepin’s “Technique”but not Chez Jacques. I so agree with his idea of No ingredient list/method. I did come unstuck once with a recipe by Edouard de Pomiane who described the timing of a cerain recipe as the length of time he conversed with his neighbour that day – I guessed wrong:)
well you certainly managed to create a great image of the soup. I have a friend who comes round and starts to flick through my books, and tosses the ones that don’t have photos for every recipe aside. She can’t visualize them, I also think it’s to do with the confidence of the cook. I like a story, I like to get a picture in my head and a feel for what the food is about – brown or otherwise.
And that’s why you cook delicious things..
I like your analogy comparing this Catalan brown food to photographing a wedding. Very descriptive!
I’ve only ever photographed two weddings – but the metaphor is pretty accurate:)
Well that’s an excellent way of getting Catalan blues and whites into the brown 😉
Well spotted:) total coincidence in fact!
Just recently I was perusing some cookbooks and one generated quite a few comments because it lacked photos. There are definitely 2 camps. One wants pictures with every recipe and anything less is “boring.” The other couldn’t care less, so, long as the food tastes good when they’re done. As for your dish, I’d be more than willing to sit down for a bowl. It’s taste that matters to me. Period.
I know too much about food photography to trust it over words:)
Oh that soup looks dreamy…I have to make this one.
I just love cookbooks. Some with photos (good and bad), some without. Can’t help myself. I just love them. Regardless, you’ve made brown look really good!
Many thanks for that
I agree that culinary glam shots can undermine the confidence of the home cook. And I understand cookbook authors wanting their food to look appetizing, but I think that only ever seeing perfect pictures–in cookbooks, magazines, and especially the TV cooking shows that over-glamorize cooking–may ultimately, paradoxically, lead people to cook less instead of more. Which is not to say that you should stop with the gorgeous food photos. But it is important for all of us to remind readers, as you do in the comments above, that occasionally each of us mis-times a dish. 🙂
I like your wedding photography analogy – now that must be really difficult to do to everyone’s satisfaction! I like food shots that give an idea of mood rather than exactly how one should cook the dish, and this one of yours certainly has a wonderful mood and you’ve captured all that light and colour and shadow. My favourite cookery books (apart from the Moro ones which I read often) are Elizabeth David’s and they only had line-drawings, but beautiful pictures in her words….or my mind, I suppose.
I’m totally with you on that – Elizabeth David wrote wonderfully. You should read her biography, it’s fantastic – what an amazing woman.
I’ve read the Artemis Cooper biography – what a story! My father always claimed to have been taught to cook by the same person who taught Elizabeth David to cook in Egypt.
What a funny, but true thing. Some food is just not all that photogenic you are right. Also, the more you know about how such things are staged, the more it seems it would interfere with your opinions. Hmm, I think I should leave the deep thoughts to you. That didn’t come out right!
As a professional there is the other side of the coin where the higher the fee, the more and more photogenic the dull dish becomes – as in working for big hamburger companies:)
Some dishes are such a challenge to photograph.. you’ve done an awesome job with your soup today! Enough that it makes me want to make it.. I guess you know which type of cookbook I love:)
I’m glad that it hit the spot:)
Great article and I love the analogy of comparing this Catalan brown food to photographing a wedding. I have just enjoyed the BBC 2 series Sicily unpacked with Andrew Graham-Dixon and Giorgio Locatelli. Food, cooking, books and art all rolled into one. I am sure they pinched the idea from you blogs…….
Many thanks for the good words and I wish I’d seen the series on Sicily – how did I not notice it?
You captured the brown food beautifully! I do like the ‘words’ of the recipe!
Casa Moro is a great cookbook
Brilliant post and I chuckled at the “brown” comment as that´s pretty common in a lot of the winter dishes from Andalucía too. Although I do enjoy cookbooks with photography, I love ones that tell a story…the words conjure up the pictures in my mind.
Glad to hear you say that, Tanya:)