Old Masters, Chiaroscuro and Growing My Own Greens

I have always been drawn to photographing people and everyday objects, and I think photographing food is an extension of this. My interest in locations, both internal and external, stems from my background: my father was an architect and I studied fine art sculpture and focused on installation so I have been reading space for a long time. This has greatly influenced all facets of my work particularly my interior and garden photography.

Apart from GCSE photography when I was 16, I’m completely self-taught when it comes to the technical aspects of the medium.

In 2003/04 I did the MA photography course at LCP (now London College of Communication). The MA was all about developing your aesthetic and conceptual practice, and I really learnt what kind of photography and which photographers interested me. This has greatly influenced my commercial practice today.

I started to work as a freelance photographer in 2006. I was living in Cornwall and without realising was cutting my teeth working for county magazines, Cornwall Today and Inside Cornwall. It’s not easy building a creative career whether you’re a photographer, a musician or a painter and getting work when you are just starting out is hard particularly when global economics are on a downward turn, but in a way that has made my resolve stronger.

My first career break came from the Telegraph Magazine. They got in touch saying they had been looking for some time for a photographer in Cornwall whose aesthetic would work with the magazine. I was over joyed but confessed to never having read or bought the paper before: luckily, I was quickly forgiven.

My other big break came from the graphic designer who works for Rick Stein and the Seafood Restaurant in Padstow. We produced a brochure that encompassed all the Stein’s businesses, from restaurants to boutique shops.

There have been a number of people I’ve met along the way who have been hugely encouraging, namely Juliet Roberts the editor of BBC Gardens Illustrated, who saw something in my work years before it was good enough for the magazine. Matt Inwood, from the food book publishers Absolute Press is the person who got me to build a food portfolio in the first place.

I enjoy all the work I do, from portraiture to food. I’m always meeting very interesting people and this is partly what makes photography so attractive to me.

I’m quite a purist when it comes to photography, I like to photograph food in situ using natural light. Whether it’s in a private house or restaurant, documenting food that has been lovingly created and often arrived out of a hot, tense kitchen is great. I know from experience that my style of work (which is location based and using natural light as opposed to a studio set up) is an increasingly acceptable way to work in the editorial and commercial food world.

My ambition for this year and next is to start working with book publishers: there are some exciting possibilities in the pipeline but it is too early to say more.

My influences tend to come from other contemporary photographers, painting and cinema. In relation to food photography, I’m particularly interested in the still life paintings of old masters that used chiaroscuro. Paintings and photography that use chiaroscuro have areas of light and dark that shape the picture, creating strong contrasts and rich atmospheric imagery. A lifestyle photographer whose work I greatly admire and whose photography has these same influences is New York based Ditte Isager.

I do and I don’t find it hard working away from home, I never stay more than a couple of nights away at one time which is just about my limit at the minute as I have a daughter who will be two years old this Autumn and it’s a real pull to be away more than that! We live in Bristol and her dad and I both juggle creative careers and parenting while working for ourselves.

It’s quite a complex weekly meal plan at our house, as Laurence is a vegetarian and I’m a lactose intolerant meat eater. We enjoy good simple food. Currently I’m not doing any gardening as we’re in the process of moving, but all fingers are crossed that our next home has a garden and we can get back into growing salads, herbs and greens.

If I had to give some career advice to my eighteen year old self then I would probably tell myself to get a proper job! I don’t think you can live your life wishing you’d done things differently: I believe that all the experiences you have do come together to inform what you are doing in the present. There are hard lessons and mistakes all the way, but if I could whisper into my 18 year old ear (and would I take any notice?) I would probably say just be true to yourself.

Contact Details

Website: www.rebeccabernstein.co.uk

Follow Rebecca on Twitter: @BekiBernstein

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