Nathan Myhrvold, author of 'The Photography of Modernist Cuisine' is more than a photographer. When it comes to the lens, he is a 'Technologist' or a 'Digital Imaging Editor'. This week the 'New Yorker' described him as a 'technology titan'. His background was Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft, which makes comparisons to Steve Jobs hard to avoid.
Myhrvold is the author of the ground-breaking, jaw-dropping, eye-popping 6-volume series 'Modernist Cuisine', a series that expresses culinary techniques using science and technology and unforgettable photography. A team of sixty worked to create 'Modernist Cuisine'. To develop this book of the project describing its photography, he employed a team of thirty-seven.
'Modernist Cuisine' is famous for its photographs of food in pots and vessels that have been cut in half. Some of the foods, including liquids, levitate in mid air. My favourite how-on-earth-did-they-do-that moment, is of a levitating burger, each element of which is suspended: bun, juicy burger, dripping mayo, mushroom, lettuce, tomato and even the cheese all just hanging there, revealing each element of the dish, just before it's put together and you take a bite (actually, your brain does that last bit of magic).
The 'Modernist Cuisine' series is also famous for its price. The photography book alone is now on sale in Amazon at £57 (reduced from £80). Converted to euro and with P&P you too can have one for €78.57. And the spec of the book might just make it worth it. The photographs are printed on 200gsm matte art paper and, believe it or not, it weighs around 13lbs. The book's dimensions are 13 inches wide by 16 inches high, which make the double page spreads 26 inches wide – all that space and pixels just to show perhaps one leaf of cabbage.
I think the book is oversized for a reason. It's the Alice-In-Wonderland effect. It makes you feel small as you struggle with it by the fireside sofa. Sorry lads, this doesn't fit your description as a coffee table book: it simply has to be read at a desk.
I bought it (or rather asked for it for Christmas) to see if I could improve my own photography skills. At first I thought I'd made a terrible, expensive, mistake. The chapter on beginner, iPhone, point and shoot photography stretches to just one double page spread, and is only a few hundred words, beginning with 'make sure to be in a place with good light'.
But studying it (at the table) opened my eyes to the effects of photo stacking, panoramic shooting and various tricks of lighting, and I was, I have to say, a teeny bit inspired.
Most food photography, writes Myhrvold, has been based on cliché: 'Too often the photo was a stylised set piece, of which the food was but one prop... in sets made to evoke the prototypical farmhouse kitchen, with light from an open window.'
The digitisation of culinary publishing and the relatively cheap cost of equipment has democratised photography and food photography in particular. Instagram filters, iPhone dinners, it's a whole new world, and 'The Photography of Modernist Cuisine' is certainly where it reaches its zenith.
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