Given the choice of watching paint dry or onions browning, I’d opt to sit on a terrace overlooking clear blue sea with a chilled glass of something delicious . I take this choice whenever I’m engaged in important, but time consuming, moments in the kitchen ….or in life….they are so closely linked…..as I can transport myself to a suitable coastal terrace in a trice, or should that be on a trice. My writing comes from seeing, smelling and hearing. My imagination is fired by the current event which sends messages careering along my synapses to re-awaken thoughts that have not lifted their heads from the pillow for too long. Whilst the sweet aroma of onions melting filled the room, I was turning the pages of a book that I had illustrated with my photographs, some 25 years ago, and which drew me back to that time.
The studio in which we worked, for this particular project, was an old theatre, in the now very smart district of Southwark Bridge Road , that had been purpose converted from its previous life. We were shooting on what had been the stage, under the proscenium arch in which a temporary wall had been constructed separating the stage from the body of the theatre, which was in use as another, much larger, studio. The kitchens were in the entrance area at the far end of the building, which meant that the cooked dishes for photography had to be carried through the theatre and up onto the stage. It was within this short journey where lay the problem. “Lay” is the apposite word as a sex manual was being photographed in the aptly named, main body, of the theatre. Our home economist, eyes firmly to the front, would quietly proceed past the beast with two backs, trying to ensure the safe passage to the stage of the tarts in her care. Never was a studio more replete with tarts. When it was mentioned to Woody Allen that sex was dirty he concurred but, with a proviso: “Only when it’s done properly”. The hired sexual athletes were clearly not of Woody’s conviction. The two protagonists. performing variations on a theme before the all seeing lens, were so polite and prim that had the responsibility of continuing the human race been left in their hands, so to speak, the cockroaches would rule the world. Tempting this Adam with an apple would have been as effective as a toreador sending a written invitation to the bull. It was adjudged that the main source of profanity was to be found with the photographer and the tarts in the stage area.
Back from the terrace over the sea, I found the onions just starting to caramelise at the edges. A recipe for an onion, raisin and pine nut tart had caught my eye whilst flipping through the pages of “Tarts and Pies”. The recipe, however, specified a delicious mashed potato pastry that I didn’t have the time or the will power to make. I did have the will power to open the puff pastry that I found in the fridge and made a hybrid version of Mary Cadogan’s recipe. The lack of Maxine Clarke, the wonderful home economist who braved the Laocoon of writhing bodies to bring us fresh delights to photograph, is evident in my picture. Those of you who may buy the book will see the version that she made, that bears little resemblance to my effort.
We had simple strawberries and peaches for pudding which took some time to make as I was doing a lot of to and froing to my terrace over the clear blue sea.
You could be the Queen of Tarts 🙂
Great recipe and pictures, including the cover!
I was hoping for Knave of Tarts:)
I don’t think he’s a baker 😉
Just my luck.
The tart recipe is a keeper. Wow, 25 years ago, you have been at this for quite some time. I see why! I need to take a visit over to your website to check out some more of your photography. Oh and thank you for sharing a shot of your peaches and strawberries! Beautiful.
Many thanks. Hope you enjoy the photography on my website.
Why oh why oh why do I always read this around lunchtime on the east coast? Sounds like a delightful repast, Roger.
It was excellent, Andra.
Oh this made me giggle out loud. What a set up with a cookbook and a sex manual.
It was very unusual:)
Now here’s a question you would be the person to ask:
I’ve noticed that cookbook photography in the 70s and 80s has a darker, heavier feel to it. For example, the cover photo of Mary Cadogan’s Tarts and Pies has a dark negative space and the yellow tones are darker than the yellow seen in your current photos. Why is this? Was it a matter of style, and if so, what was the intent? What was being conveyed? I’ve had this question in the back of my head ever since the time I was charged with reorganizing my grandmother’s army of cookbooks. Is it a similar concept to tenebrism?
That was the style back then 😉
It’s to do with fashion and materials. Back then I was shooting with fine grain transparency film on a 5″x4″ Sinar Norma bellows camera.The zeitgeist was for rich colours, heavily propped with old fashioned kitchen artefacts.I lit the pictures, in studio, with a huge array of electronic flash, including soft boxes, strips and focus spots.The empty black space on the cover is a graphic device whih is part of the art director’s layout for the cover, making a space for typography, and has nothing to do with my picture. I now work on a 35mm digital SLR shooting mainly in daylight.My style changes continually at this point as so much is done in post production, with Photoshop.Daylight as opposed to studio lighting creates a huge difference in itself. There is no intent in food photography but to make the food look deliciously tempting. Style changes like womens’ make up, or like car design. Hope that helps. Tout ca change……
Hi again, I just saw the black space that you spoke of. It’s just part of my composition. The background for the picture was a piece of oiled, black slate which was very fashionable at the time.
Yes, that’s an excellent explanation. The sentence, “the zeitgeist was for rich colours…” helped a lot.
Glad it was of some help.I’ve been a professional photographer since 1968, based in London until 2001, and I’ve seen a lot of changes in fashion, techniques and equipment:)
Thank you for your explanation, by the way!
Love Mad Dog’s observation 😀
Your photographs are just amazing.
He’s a good man:)
After a day of trekking, I’d love to have come back to your tart and a glass of something delicious. As it is, I’m showering and going to bed!
I’ve been growing more accepting of raisins lately. Mainly because they seem to be in ever summer dish I see.
I have to say that I left them out, mainly because I forgot them:)
Scrumptious tart, lovely fruit!
Oh yeah. And those onions too:)
Too funny. And what fine looking tarts (old and new).
Those were the days:)
Roger, you most inspiring with your words, thoughts and cooking. This tart is something totally for my taste of making deliciousenesses, uhh what a word not to be found in a dictionary, , just another way to explian creativity, as far as enjoying life in food and photography. Thank you for sharing!!!!
Thank you for appreciating:)
I knew that photographers working in war zones faced unimaginable dangers. I now can honestly say the same of food photographers, for I never would have imagined that studio’s set up. Too funny, Roger. Even so, judging by that cover, you didn’t let the sideshow affect your work.
The roar of the greasepaint, John, the smell of the crowd:)
You’ve no idea how dangerous electronic flash used to be (and still is to a lesser extent) 🙂
I’m still chuckling over how cockroaches could be ruling the world. Your tart looks amazing!
What a brilliant story – although I know you have plenty more of them! I worked for a while (years back) in a department of British Telecom when modems were coming in (but they were the size of fridge freezers) and had a similar experience with a photographer in his studio as he worked on two shoots at once (no sex manual, but tempermental models for an aftershave shoot I think) who were most put out at having to negotiate their way round our “beaver brown” modems. Yes, that was the official name of their colour! Think your onions and tart are a much nicer colour and far more appetising than hardware or cheap aftershave.
Don’t knock cheap aftershave. I’ve just rediscovered eau de cologne (2€ in our local Super U). It was bought to discourage insects from biting our ankles when sitting outside in the evening. I just tried it as aftershave and I think its rather good 🙂
Must be potent if it discourages insects – how does it work with the “laydeez”?!
Your tarts always look amazing.
So interesting reading about how you worked 25 years ago.
It was a very different world in photographic terms.
What larks, love your description of that studio, food photography and a sex manual…. This recipe sounds great, I can taste it now. Another one to add to my repertoire.
I’ve got a thing for pine nuts at the moment:)
I love the way you can transport yourself to the coastal terrace and come up with a delicious tart and a wonderful story to share with us.
It’s a good transport system:)