In the age of social media, the way foodies capture their love of food can be instantaneous. Food photographers are using their own creativity and skill to capture that same passion chefs have in the kitchen. This post is particularly exciting for me because I have the opportunity to feature a former classmate of mine from Trinity, Klair Quincy Siciliano! Klair was a Studio Arts major at Trinity College and embarked on a year-long senior thesis in which she featured faces and food across the Greater Hartford area. Her thesis, titled Chefs of Greater Hartford, includes photographs of chefs and their dishes at restaurants including Barcelona Wine Bar, Billings Forge, Carbone’s Restaurant, Firebox Restaurant, Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria, Max Downtown, and Museum Cafe at Wadsworth Atheneum. Her work captures the impeccable attention to detail, focus, and creativity of chefs across Hartford, West Hartford, and East Hartford. Inspired by an internship she completed while studying abroad in Rome, Klair used her camera as a way to capture the art of cooking and the passion these chefs have for their work. Read my entire Q&A with her below:
Can you being by summarizing your thesis (the process of coming up with this concept, how long it took from start to finish, any other details you’d like to share)?
The Back of The House: Chefs of Greater Hartford explores the behind the scenes of local restaurants in Hartford, West Hartford, and East Hartford, capturing chefs and their teams in their natural habitats. The series of photographs explores the relationship between the individuals who prepare food and the final plate, inviting the audience to experience the hard work, creativity and precision that goes into food preparation. I started this project fall of senior year during an independent study to learn Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. It became a 2 semester long project as I continued it in the Studio Arts thesis course.
Why did you initially choose this topic as the subject of your thesis?
I began the thesis process with the intent to hone in on one specific group of people to capture their lives and tell their story. I became very inspired by the art of cooking during a cooking internship junior year in Rome. Chef Andrea, a man I spent several hours with each week told me his life story. He began cooking at a very young age, and was at a point where he wanted to share cooking stories and recipes with others, so he opened “Cooking Classes in Rome.” The experience Chef Andrea shared with me was eye opening, I decided to continue to learn about the food and restaurant industry when back at Trinity. That is how the idea originated and began to grow.
Although Chef Andrea initially sparked my interest, inspiration came from many different platforms. I decided to read Anthony Bordain’s Confidential Kitchen, an award-winning book revealing the truths of daily lives of chefs. After enthralled by Bordain’s suspenseful stories, I was even more excited to continue exploring this subject on my own.
How did you go about choosing the specific restaurants featured in this collection?
In the beginning of the project it was hard to cold call restaurants and tell them what I was doing, but it had to be done. I called as many restaurants as I could and asked if they would like to be part of this Hartford-based project. I received both positive and negative feedback. I took any opportunity I could find and tried to capture as many different types of restaurants as I could. I included all genders, ethnicities, etc. I wanted my thesis to be about the art of cooking, and nothing else.
Has food always been an important part of your life? Did this project change your own relationship with food and food culture?
I guess you could say food is an important part of everyone’s lives… of course, including my own. I love it! I’ll eat anything and everything. It wasn’t until this project though where I realized the art behind it, the beauty in the natural colors of foods we eat. Most importantly, the incredible jobs we do not always get to see. My thesis opened up the role of the chef to the public, allowing the people to appreciate what is usually hidden behind the doors. These photos can be seen as a tribute to the chefs that create the work that is served to us on our plate.
You seem to focus more on the chefs themselves, than the food? What interested you about these chefs as the subject of your photographs? Can you tell us a little bit about who you met?
Although food is of great importance, this project really explores who makes the food we eat. While in the kitchens, I always seemed to find myself deep in conversation with the chefs as they cooked. They shared their stories with me: how they got involved with cooking, who inspires them, and so much more. They all welcomed me into their kitchen, inviting me to joke around, and learn from what they had to offer. I met some of the most amazing and inspiring individuals through this project. Through these photographs, you can see the effort and fixation the chefs have with what they do. In the end, I hope my audience takes away the passion and hard work the chefs offer.
Did the chefs share any stories that surprised you?
I learned a lot about each chef’s family, and where they come from. The most inspiring stories were where they learned to cook. Chef Xavier at Barcelona Wine Bar explained to me how he incorporates his family’s heritage in what he cooks. The night I photographed this restaurant they were trying out a new recipe for burnt cheesecake. He explained that burnt cheesecake is an old Spanish tradition. When people look at the photo that includes the burnt cheesecake, I have heard people say “wow great photo but that food is burnt.” I explain that the burnt outside of the cheesecake is intentional. Hearing the stories of burnt cheesecake allowed me to have a better understanding of where tradition and culture come into play, and that traditions carry on. Very inspiring.
How does this project inform your understanding of the relationship between chefs and their food?
When looking at the photos together as a group, it becomes clear of the unified facial expressions the chefs seem to have. In addition, the precision and exactness of the actions they make. Taking a step back in the editing process of my photos, the dedication and precision these chefs put into their cooking became clear. It no longer was about the act of eating, but the art of preparing, chopping and stirring.
Can you talk a little bit about your own process—what type of camera and photo editing software do you use?
In the beginning of my project I was shooting with a Nikon D90, but I was lucky enough to upgrade to a Nikon D7200. I was thrilled because with my new camera enabled me to print photos at a much larger scale for my final show. I mainly used my 35mm lens. This was a fixed lens, meaning I could not zoom in and out. This became a challenge as there were limited spots to stand within the hectic, often small, kitchens. It was a challenge I overcame as it forced to me always capture new angles. I also occasionally shot with a wide-angle lens, also allowing new photos into the mix. As for software, I primarily worked within Adobe Lightroom with the occasional edit in Adobe Photoshop. The combination allowed me to make all the adjustments I needed.
What advice or tips would you give to other aspiring food photographers?
The biggest thing I learned from this was to not be afraid. I went in to my first restaurant nervous and scared, and walked out with terrible photos. It was my second restaurant where I gained the confidence and fell in love with what I was doing. My biggest advice, do not give up!
Do you have any ideas for how you will expand or develop this project? What’s next for Klair Quincy?
I would love to continue working on this project. Photography is definitely a possible career path for me, as well as the hospitality industry. I would love to find a way to combine the two!
View Klair’s full collection here: http://www.klairquincy.com/chefs-of-hartford/