I was 19 years old when I discovered that studying to become a heart surgeon was going to take too long and that archaeology would probably be too boring, so I decided to become a professional photographer instead.
I went to the London College of Printing to do a BA degree in Visual Communication and then I enrolled in the army for two years, during which time I was based in Paris. I was shooting various reportage subjects including war zones which teach you how to work and see things very quickly.
At the very start of my career in photography it was hard to find work, but at the time I was young and didn't really think about it. Certainly the cost of living was much lower than it is today. I was getting involved in projects, people saw my work and I got commissions. I guess I was lucky in creating the right look at the right time, firstly in portraiture, as for 10 years I was shooting for The Face magazine as well as other film and music magazines before shooting commercials and then moving onto food.
Guy Bourdin was my main reason for starting a career in photography. Then came all the other great names who inspired me, not necessarily food photographers, but professionals from the world of portrait and fashion. From Irving Penn to Paolo Roversi, Don Mc Cullin, Albert Watson, Peter Lindberg, Annie Leibovitz and Tim Walker: all these amazing people and ideas were having a great influence on my vision. I look at other photographers’ work all the time and I am inspired by the energy in their pictures, their concepts and their approach.
When I started my career it was a very different era. I think now it’s much harder for a young person to break into this profession. I receive emails every single day from people who want to assist and work with me. The move to digital has not helped career prospects as now many amateurs think they are photographers too.
My very first career break happened when I did an exhibition of fashion designer portraits in London. This really did open doors for me. Then I started shooting food for Food Illustrated and Vogue Entertaining. I have never felt that I have ever “arrived”. As a photographer you are always looking forward to the next project and to future challenges. Shooting photos for books is really my preferred activity nowadays. I would love to set up my own publishing company in the future.
I really enjoy shooting food on location, where I am travelling abroad and meeting a wide variety of different people. In this profession you have to do a bit of everything from studio work to location shooting.
My working days vary hugely, even though the basic technicalities are the same. What really matters is the ideas and the concepts. Once you have got a really good, new concept, you feel wonderful and click away to preserve the memory of it for posterity. I have been shooting in natural day light for many years, even before it became a trend. If you have a good team working together, comprising of a good food stylist, food economist, props assistant, and wherever possible the publishers print on good paper, then everything flows effectively.
I live in London, which I love, with my partner, who is a food stylist, and my daughter. I go to Paris regularly but London is my home after so many years here. I’m lucky enough to be living in Notting Hill with my studio nearby.
My partner is a very good cook, which I really appreciate. I never seem to have enough spare time to cook, even though my mother always taught me that in life it is important to be able to feed yourself properly. My favourite food markets are all over the world, and I can literally spend hours with my cameras there.
My favourite places to eat at the moment are The Ledbury and Roka restaurant. I have been very lucky in my work to experience amazing food all over the world prepared by very talented chefs.
I look at trends in food photography and I think that the rustic, organic look has been there for many years, but the contemporary look is equally popular. It all depends for whom you work: anything is possible with food. I do feel that food photography is even more “trendy” than the fashion industry itself. Shooting from above is all the rage at the moment, but sometimes certain concepts become too popular and then nobody wants them anymore. Proper application of concepts is important.
If I had to give advice to young people entering the industry, I would tell them what was told to me when I started: keep on shooting and follow your own rhythm. Here are some of my guidelines:
Get inspiration by all means, but then close the book you are looking at and follow your own senses. I see far too much plagiarism in this industry and not enough innovation.
Assist a range of different photographers, don’t get stuck with just one.
Do freelance work to leave you enough time to pursue your own shooting.
Enter the world of food photography only if you really love food, otherwise it will show very clearly in your work.
Create your very own, individual project. It will be appreciated by Art Directors who commission new work and it will show a certain level of professionalism in terms of continuity and structure. Random snaps here and there may be beautiful but are not as effective as a structured series within a project.
Wherever you go, train your eyes to see and to crop, as if you were taking imaginary photographs. It doesn’t matter if you do not have a camera with you at the time, just train your eyes.
Jean Cazals' Website: www.jeancazals.net
Follow Jean Cazals on Twitter: @JCazals