In this series, we’ll look deeper into some of the projects on Behance.net that are especially admired in our community. Michael Roulier is a photographer specializing in food and cosmetic visuals, having published more than 30 books in collaboration with three star Michelin culinary chefs. His project on Behance, Michael Roulier, contains photographs featured to help create a book for Anne Sophie Pic, a three star Michelin chef herself.
What was your inspiration for this project?
I was commissioned by Hachette, a French Publishing company to create a “sumptuous” book about Anne Sophie Pic, a French 3 star Michelin chef, a woman in a man’s world; an exception. Hachette knew very well that I would have to be left completely free on the creative part to accept a three weeks time project.
I had already worked with Anne Sophie, so we knew each other quite well. At this level, being a chef, means above all being an artist. This project was supposed to be her published food “manifesto.” The text was written by Stéphane Davet, a journalist specialized in rock & roll, but equally passionate about food.
The 48 images we had to do, like a true photography book, would appear naked, unadorned, and apart from the text.
The difficulty with a project like that is dealing with the “ego” of everybody. The main artist remained Anne Sophie Pic. My job was to find a concept, translate her poetic world, and at the same time give (with humbleness) my own artistic vision of her food creations. When all the cursors are at the right position, it works.
There is something very pure in the personality of Anne Sophie; she is at the same time very fragile and very strong. The idea of a “white book” imposed itself from the beginning; Her mind is white and beautiful. The leading concept was to make it become almost “surreal”. We played with shades of grey, giving an aerial feeling to the plates; they where likes “frames” for creation.
Then would start the real work: composition.
We had asked Anne Sophie’s team to bring everything in a kit, so that we could start constructing the images with our own inspiration. We had previously spoken on the phone about making mandalas, but I found it too restrictive and wanted to leave everything pretty open.
Sometimes, by the time we had found the composition, the food was “gone,” so we would shoot it with an iPhone to keep a trace for later. The kitchen was kind enough to re-start everything (and it can be a huge job!) and bring it freshly prepared, so that we could recompose and finalize the shot with a high pixel digital back.
Being a 3 star Michelin chef means that you have very precise ideas about the way you are going to compose food for your clients; Anne Sophie gave us complete freedom to visually revisit her dishes: I think that she wanted us to surprise her. When the job was finished she told me that we had inspired her a lot for the future, it was the biggest compliment she could have given us.
She had a little booklet on her desk, like an artist’s notebook, and we often looked at it to understand better what inspired her when conceiving her food creations.
Can you describe your process in creating this project?
This project was quite technical. Achieving an interesting result on a white background without having the feeling of something simplistic was a bit of a challenge, but I had a clear vision of what the outcome could look like.
Leaving my studio in Paris (and all my usual tools) and going to her hometown in Valence was quiet an adventure because it was impossible to reproduce the quality of food preparation & techniques her team achieved, even with the best food-stylists.
Actually that was the difficult part: doing a technical job in an uncontrolled environment.
When we arrived there with my team, Emmanuel Turiot, the food stylist I work with, and Thomas Naggabo my assistant, they showed us around and asked us where we would like to be installed. I was lucky enough to discover in Anne Shopie’s private office a huge glass wall that separated her office from her secretary. That wall was going to be the magic tool: we covered it with tracing paper from top to bottom, and there we had a huge gorgeous soft light: we could play with hot spots behind and control things pretty well.
Bringing a food stylist with me was essential to create an interface with the kitchen (an army of 35 cooks dedicated to their goddess Anne Sophie Pic); they speak the same language. The way I like to work is like being in an experimental lab: we have to try, restart all over and over again until we reach satisfaction. Emmanuel Turiot facilitated the relationship we had with all the cooks behind the door, who could not always understand why we wanted them to restart the whole process again.
What sparked your desire to work with food?
I started working in the luxury business 20 years ago. Cosmetics, fashion accessories etc… I stumbled on food by chance 10 years ago, and loved it because Art directors had no idea of how to deal with it, or actually didn’t really like working on this subject. So there was an incredible freedom for my creativity. I could become a Photographer again!
Today, there is a new generation of Art directors who actually specialize in the food business: it became a trend. I love working with them. We mutually inspire each other.
Do you feel that this project is “done,” or is there anything you’d like to improve on or change in the future?
Not really, it’s now an old story. We are working on new projects. We are already different people.