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Interview with Reinhard Hunger by Inés Lauber

Photo by Reinahrd Hunger for "Beef" magazine 2012

“We produced stills in the style of the old Dutch Masters’ oil paintings.”

Reinhard Hunger is one of the most influential German food photographers. Modern food photography is today's witness of food culture and trends, just like painting used to be. With his images, Hunger aims to tell a story, often with a humorous twist. He prefers to show the natural beauty of food, but still, his images are the result of highly conceptual thinking and detailed design work. As we all eat with our eyes and images play such an important role in our perception, I was tempted to ask Reinhard a couple of questions about his professional work.

How did you first get into photography and food? 

I’ve been interested in photography since I was a teenager, I already knew I wanted to be a photographer when I was 16.  I was always keen on taking pictures and immediately after school I already started assisting different photographers. At first, I was dreaming of becoming a fashion photographer, going to Milano, but soon I realized the fashion business is not for me.

I wanted to work on my own, in my own studio and this is how I got started with still lives. I worked very close with a designer, Christoph Himmel, and we produced stills in the style of the old Dutch Masters’ oil paintings. The Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) Magazine approached me and asked us if we could pursue that style but with food as a subject. And that is how it started – still now I’m working with the SZ Magazine and requests on food photography became more and more… I didn’t deliberately chose food as a subject, it just organically happened.

Personally, I am very interested in food and cooking, the theme of food is even in my last name ‘Hunger’, so maybe it was bound to happen. I love cooking and I have a garden where i grow some vegetables. Strolling over the markets, watching a chef arranging a plate – these are all things I really enjoy doing. And just watching the food stylist, I learned a lot from during the  past 10/15 years.

      

How does food photography mirror or influence food culture? 

It is interesting to see that the style in which food is prepared, arranged and served is always changing. Look at a cookbook from only 5 years ago – the style has changed considerably. It has become more colourful now, fashion in food always changes. And of course the style of an image also always depends on the occasion, if you are shooting for yourself or for a client. My food photography started around 2004. At that time there was already the trend towards a more natural look going on. In the 90s it was more an artificial look. But the whole development of food trends went from organic and vegetarian to now vegan a lot of craft foods, like all the craft breweries…it all keeps on increasing. So I am very curious what it will look like in 10 years.

"Sometimes the plot has already been thought through and it has to be perfect and precise like the layout."

Looking at your photography, there’s always a story behind the image, each picture is more than just a plain image of a product. How do you use storytelling in your work?

I like to work conceptually in every shot I do, sometimes magazines just send me a text and I come up with the whole idea. It’s different in advertisement, as they don’t really allow me much freedom to think outside of the box. Sometimes the plot has already been thought through and it has to be perfect and precise like the layout. But in the end every job is different and it often depends on the designer/stylist I work with. Christoph Himmel is a designer I really enjoy working with, as he shares my interest for conceptual work and taking the picture to another level, like telling a story. When we work together we have the same idea of what we want to do, it’s a good combo.

Photo for Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, 2016

Photo series "Vegan Sex" for The New York Times Magazine, 2007

Can you share a memorable moment working as a food photographer?

An important point for me was shooting the still lives in the style of the Dutch Masters, because that was the start of my career as a food photographer. There’s one thing which is really funny about food photography, when I talk with people everybody asks me: “What are your tricks? What kind of artificial ingredients do you cook with? It’s quite poisoned the food you shoot, right?”. They are often quite disappointed when I tell them that we usually just sit down at a table and eat the food after shooting. No poisoned ingredients, no tricks – all just natural.

 

What inspires you? People, places, moments?

I don’t go to art exhibitions much unfortunately. Inspiration mostly comes from what I see in my surroundings. Looking at the food stylist’s work, going outside into the woods for a weekend. I really love nature, vegetables and fruits. On holidays my first stop is the market, I love to see the fish stand, the meat, how they sell, buy and make it, these are things I am really interested in.

And food is a very important theme because you have to eat something every day. You don’t think about food that much if you are not really interested in the topic and then you just eat because you have to… but I am truly passionate about it, I am also interested in great chefs or inspiring restaurants like Noma, working with natural produce.

 

Interview by our German correspondent Inés Lauber.

Read more about Reinhard Hunger on his website