Having arrived in New Mexico, camera in hand, on the train like a refugee from America’s frozen north coast of New York, I had an interesting problem: I had no dishes. I had no plates. No flatware. No pans. No cups. No glasses. No nothing. Zero. The shelves that hold a collection built over years were 2000 miles away. It was a unique position to be in as an adult, but moreover, as a food photographer. The New Dish Project started as a way to build a new collection, but also to talk about food photography and the elements that make good photography work as a built my new studio in Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico. For 30 days in May 2015 I acquire a new piece everyday, shoot some food on it (primarily in my beautiful new outdoor shooting space) and developed a new collection.
I have included a few of my favorites here, but you can check out the entire project on my blog – clarkeconde.com
ITEM THIRTEEN: The P-38.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include in this collection an item that I almost forgot that I had on me, but have reached for in my pocket instinctively since I was a teenager every time the need arose- the P-38. Ounce for ounce, you’d be hard pressed to find an item that has met the needs of more hungry American soldiers than the P-38. Designed in WWII to open food cans, you will still find the P-38 on the key-chains of veterans of a certain age because it continues to perform the same job with the exact same precision without rusting, sharpening or breaking more than 70 years later. Issued to G.I.s until the advent of the MRE ration in the Eighties, food photographers in the self service can pick one up like I did new for 50 cents at a military surplus store.
Sometimes it helps to have a bowl that is a little rough around the edges. With a little chip or scrape, it looks like it has a bit of experience. Sometimes I want to convey that experience, like with this rough painted bowl with the rice and pickled carrots within shot here in Old Town Albuquerque where everything seems to have a little chip or scrape earned through the experience of over 300 years. One thing that my experience as a food photographer taught me is that you can easily line up your pickled carrots in a neat row if you use a toothpick. Come on, don’t be a toothpick hater.
Big and green and filled with marshmallows, the bowl from the yard sale cost four dollars.
Sprung from the fabled history of Ancien Régime France, the Coupe Glass made it though the revolution, though its shape model famously did not. The Coupe is a staple for beverage photographers. Sadly, I recently heard a revolting story of the specific demised of the coupe glasses I left in New York, but fortunately I found a new set for 99 cents here in New Mexico. C’est la vie. Vodka, tonic and thick slice of orange photographed in the plaza in Old Town Albuquerque.
At the cost of $1.39 for a pack of ten from the grocery store in Albuquerque’s Wells Park neighborhood, it is hard to find a more versatile reusable utensil in a food photographer’s bag for the buck than the bamboo chopstick. For propping, stirring, poking, moving and occasionally even eating with, they are almost as valuable as a role of paper towels in the studio. Today, they are paired with a red chile dusted fried egg I got from a local chicken I know.
Two lifetimes ago now, there was a restaurant in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill neighborhood called Café Bubbles that had me shoot my first restaurant ad, hosted my art shows, gave my toddling daughter free reign over the place and served their food on these blue plates. This is one of the few remaining plates, given to me by my friend and former restaurateur, Mary. Like Mary says, everything looks great on it. Especially orange things.
Ubiquitous yet indispensable, the plastic deli container is available in a variety of sizes and has revolutionized food storage, transportation and sales. Somewhere between when they stopped putting Big Macs in Styrofoam boxes and today, these clear plastic, throwaway containers showed up in the service of a hungry public too hurried to get a plate. In a well appointed food photography studio, stacks of these await moving foods. At the local grocery store here in Albuquerque, a plastic deli container can be had for all of seven cents complete with the fishmonger’s choice of the single best looking, fully cooked, wild caught, Chinese crawfish.