West coast food and lifestyle photographer, Shea Evans’ new portfolio book is a stand out. Sure, the work inside is strong and compelling, but for me it’s the cover that really makes it. The distressed aluminum cover (a baking sheet!) with die cut and copper logo sets the stage for his work beautifully. It’s visual character is compelling and authentic to the type of food photography Shea does – not stuffy and formal but something authentic, natural, genuine, with a history and story to tell. It shows he gets great food (and indeed Shea was once a professional chef!). He says, “I was a professional chef for over a decade before I traded in my knife for a camera. It’s this unique perspective, and my passion for all things food, that drives me to make authentic food imagery, to show beauty not with shellac and shoe polish, but with fresh ingredients captured right at the moment they were meant to be eaten.”
Shea told me,
“As a food photographer I often find myself searching out distressed surfaces to use as backdrops in my work as I feel it lends a sense of realism. I’ve hauled old car hoods out of the woods, built “farm tables” from old fences, and hopped through junk yards for doors with multiple layers of cracked and drying paint. About a year ago I found myself in a used restaurant supply store and I picked up a couple of large baking sheets, years of grime, scratches and scrapes charred permanently into the surface. For a while I used them as a backdrop for the dishes I photographed. (This recent Edible Silicon Valley cover was photographed on top of one of the grimy baking sheets)
At about the same time I was thinking about putting together a hard copy portfolio to go after larger clients. As I’m not nearly as established as many other photographers, I felt like I really needed to try to go above and beyond with a goal of creating something that would not only hold memorable images but be a memorable piece in itself. I began wondering if I could somehow use the baking sheets as the front and back of the book and then house the pages inside, but how to put it together and how to make the prints?
After reading this post, and noticing that Canon was still offering a great ($300) rebate for the Pixma Pro-100, I picked that up along with 11×14 prescored Moab Lasal Matte Paper. Even after the rave reviews, I was still blown away by the detail and the color accuracy. I was worried that on matte paper my food images would feel too washed out, but not at all, even last night showing it to a friend, we had to go out and get something to eat because he got hungry looking through. I hope I can get that same reaction with potential clients.
The number of designs and redesigns are too numerous to discuss, so I’ll just skip to the final. I wanted to use the baking sheets at all costs but still needed to figure out a way to incorporate my brand and how to make the piece functional. I found a company (Tutto Ferro) in Reno willing to cut my smaller logo out of the front and cut my name out of the back using one of my fonts. We then glued two sheets of slightly smaller copper to the back of the baking sheets. To finish the cover and back, I scuffed the copper with a piece of steel wool and then sealed both the copper side and the baking sheet side with a matte clear coat spray I found at Lowes. It made both the copper color and the baking sheet “grime” pop a little more, almost the same as if the surface were wet. Importantly for my portfolio meetings with clients, it also made it smooth to the touch, so while it looks “dirty”, it feels clean. As I had hoped the outer effect of the portfolio is that it looks real, rough, striking and worn, but when the portfolio is open the mono-textured copper and the images make for a contrasting “clean and simple” experience where the viewer is truly able to focus on the photographs.
For the inside and to attach the pages, I got a local custom woodworking store to make me a spine from oak that I could fashion some aluminum brackets to hold the pages with screwposts. I then found some codura nylon (echoing the knife roll I used to carry as a chef) and a leather punch at a local leather store, to fashion the binding so the piece would be flexible. Finally it was off to a hardware store to find bolts, washers and nuts (I settled on brass) to attach the nylon to the baking/copper sheets. It’s crazy that all that info fits into a paragraph as it took days and weeks to source the parts, and consider all the options.
For something that in the end functions smoothly and simply with subtle echoes of my past and current life in the culinary world, it was an incredibly complicated engineering process, with hours and hours of research and redesigns before arriving at the final product. However, I’m incredibly proud of the outcome and I hope that potential clients will get an instant sense of my style and work ethic by viewing the piece. They can touch and feel the images as they move through the portfolio because I’ve achieved….. No Plastic Sleeves!!!!