Jason Ingram is a food, garden, landscape, plant and people photographer, who, inspired by his grandfather's love of gardening, became interested in horticulture and food in his early childhood. Many years later, after graduating from Salisbury Art College in 1992, he began a long apprenticeship assisting the likes of photographers Jonathan Metcalfe and Royston Walters. Initially, in the days of film photography, Jason worked with and for many different agencies, corporate clients and studios, learning the skill and craft of becoming a freelance photographer. This he achieved seven years later when he launched his own studio in Bristol, where he lives with his wife, Cinead McTernan, the Deputy Editor of The English Garden magazine, and his one year old son, Hal.
His portfolio, or “Book” as it is called, shows the work he has produced for a list of clients that reads like a Who’s Who of the food and gardening world. He has worked prodigiously and prolifically for The National Trust, BBC Gardeners World ( doing shoots with Toby Buckland, Monty Don, Alys Fowler and Carol Klein amongst others), Gardens Illustrated, Waitrose Kitchen, Country Living, Masterchef, PR companies, book publishing companies, advertising agencies, private clients, Michelin starred restaurants and famous chefs. His trophy cabinet of photographic awards and nominations is brimming and his website and blog, at www.jasoningram.co.uk, attract readers from all over the world who have followed his steady ascent with keen interest, admiration and, probably, an envious eye.
I have worked with him on two occasions, as I am a private cook and have helped put together the food, recipes and styling for two of his photo shoots. I find working with him fascinating, educational and inspirational, and I thought that Foodie Bugle readers might be interested to get a behind-the-scenes, private and personal glimpse of what it is like to work with the man, the camera, the technique and the methodology.
First and foremost, what surprised me more than anything, was that after all the success and bright lights, Jason Ingram is a very self-effacing man. He is genuinely enthusiastic about his work, the people, stories and food in front of his lens and achieving excellence for his clients, many of whom have used only him for years.
He arrives on the dot of 9.00 a.m. carrying several bags, screens, lights, lens cases, tripods, more bags and even more equipment. Nothing is left to chance. After coffee and cakes the session begins, to end ten shots and nine hours later, with only three people in total ( me, Jason and Madeline Waters from Pam Lloyd P.R.) arranging a campaign for “Love your Greens”, to assist the brassica industry and farmers of Great Britain by showing cooks how many delicious recipes there are for broccoli, cauliflowers, sprouts and cabbages right across the four seasons.
Jason positions his table and equipment in the most favourable space in the room, taking into account the southern and northern window lighting. The first shot is a spring cabbage soup, and it takes a full hour. Using the back of a long wooden handled brush he tweaks and tinkers individual pieces of carrot, onion and cabbage into the correct focal positions. His camera, (Nikon D3X 85 mm 1.4 ) is connected to his Mac Pro computer, where he re-sizes, crops and processes all his images, picking the best exposures. The attention to detail and the unrelenting concentration is really demanding, yet from one recipe to the next, he maintains his good humour and patience, pressing “click” only when we are all three in democratic agreement. This is it. This is “the shot". We hold our breath. Done. Well done everybody.
Every item within the shoot frames must mix, match and blend with the overall composition. Glasses need to be switched and changed: the elderflower cordial might be too yellow, the red wine too red, the stripy plate too bright and the linen tablecloth too white. Different flowers, cutlery, crockery and accessories are inspected, selected and moved, an endless perfectionist procession of excited acceptance or perfunctory dismissal.
Rushing around juggling lots of recipes all at once, while clearing and sorting, I have just managed to burn the cauliflower cheese in a silent, sealed Aga top roasting oven that takes no prisoners. I cannot find the right shade of green tablecloth and I need to re-align the broccoli florets to show the purple side up, as they are now covered in a lemon dressing and turning rapidly khaki.
I ask Jason how he keeps so calm and patient, in an industry that is overrun by vast egos and arrogance. “It’s nice to be nice” he replies. "My days are extremely long and if I have to work in a team where people do not get on, then it can make life very difficult."
So, go on, spill the celebrity beans Jason, who has made your life difficult? No comment. Which photographer inspires you and your work? He answers "Tara Fisher, Jean Cazals, David Loftus and Simon Wheeler”. Which garden writers do you enjoy reading? He is quick off the mark: “Lia Leendertz, Anna Pavord and James Alexander-Sinclair”. What has been your most exciting project? “The one I am working on at the moment, shooting the kitchen gardens at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons across the four seasons for a book by Raymond Blanc”. What has been your funniest or most surreal moment? “Eating lunch in Le Manoir’s dining room with muddy wellies and dirty clothes after a morning’s rainy kitchen garden shoot.”
We stop a mere 20 minutes to eat lunch at 2.00 p.m. and in between tea, coffee and biscuits are drunk and eaten standing up, peering through Jason’s lens, looking at the computer screen and debating. Should we put in a salt cruet? Should we take out that napkin? Is that bowl straight? No, it’s the wrong colour. Jason changes lens, this time he is using a 60 Macro, 2.8 mm. We are only half way through, but I have been working for three days to prepare for this day and my knees feel as if they are buckling beneath me.
I ask Jason, if any young people reading The Foodie Bugle wanted to become food or garden photographers, what advice would he give to them and why. He believes that an aspiring photographer, in any field, needs to do a long and committed apprenticeship within a very good studio. They would only earn around £100 per day, but they could borrow equipment from their professional mentor or tutor, thereby avoiding huge expenses if they wanted to augment their income, gradually, by freelancing. They should find a good cook and food stylist to work with, and network conscientiously to spread the word.
Finally, after a gruelling day, the mission is accomplished, and I begin the long process of bringing my kitchen back to normality. As he leaves the building, Billingham bag strapped across his torso, making several trips to and from his car with heavy equipment, he thanks everyone profusely for all their support.
How any professional craftsman gets into and remains within the winners’ enclosure of the closed inner circle of his trade has always been driven by the same tenets: honesty, integrity, good manners and excellent work over a consistently long period. Not an easy task, but I am doubly inspired by one who has done so with such quiet grace. And he did not even say a word about the burnt cauliflower cheese.
Website for Jason Ingram Photography : www.jasoningram.co.uk
Website for Love your Greens and Pam Lloyd PR: www.pamlloyd.com