A single glance at Richard Haughton’s work can take your breath away. You can imagine our excitement when we were able to track down this Irish photographer and get to know the mind and eye behind these jaw-dropping photos.
Photographer Richard Haughton isn’t afraid to put a lot on his plate, figuratively speaking that is. Just like many of the chefs he works closely with, improvisation and a fast-pace keep the creative juices flowing. Haughton works with what he has, even if that means only 90 minutes to shoot 5 dishes and 40 ingredients in a tiny nook right outside the kitchen. His happy-go-lucky attitude often presents him with unusual, but practical, materials and techniques. It’s not everyday an award-winning cookbook is shot on garbage cans.
In the following interview with Haughton, his unwavering enthusiasm and award-winning photography makes us hungry for life – and food.
Where are you from, and what initially attracted you to photography?
I’m from the South West of Ireland. I got my first camera when I was 6. I still have some of my first pictures and they are recognizably mine – the same eye! I found it entirely magical.
I’ve always loved taking pictures, I did my first proper job for an architectural magazine when I was 14, and it’s all I’ve ever done since. I enjoy pretty much every aspect of it, from start to finish. And I love the experiences it’s given me. One of the great things about being a photographer is that you have to actually be there to take the picture.
Can you describe both your personal and professional style/aesthetic?
My personal and professional aesthetic are the same really – nearly all my work concerns things I’m personally attracted to, and generally my reactions and decisions are personally driven.
Again, it’s in the eye – I look at something and I see the picture, and I shoot it. If it isn’t right, I know what I’m trying to achieve and can keep working until I get it. I’ve done a lot of different kinds of work, and my style tends to be a bit different depending on my reaction to my subject matter – [for example] ballet demands a very different approach to food. But I like simplicity, clarity, and, at the same time, a certain richness.
Can you tell us about your process?
The first thing, is to find the light that conveys best the personal genius and style of a particular chef. I will always be working as close to the kitchen as possible, using a flash or a mixture of flash and daylight. A book may take a year or more to shoot to get all the seasons, so I have to be able to consistently recreate a light in each visit. For example, Frédéric Anton’s marrow bones were shot in four different seasons.
I might be working in a poky basement in Paris or a glorious suite in Marseille – very different lighting situations. But whatever space you’re in is essentially a “light,” a reflector, so I’m always looking for features that could be useful – a big white wall, a window or skylight, a black ceiling. And I always try and set things up to give a possibility for chance – something falling over, or a lucky incident that suddenly gives a great bit of light!
This means that I’m usually traveling with about 60Kgs (130+ lbs) of equipment, even though I try and take the absolute minimum.
After traveling all over the world to work, what is your favorite destination and why?
No, I definitely don’t have one! Nor one favourite restaurant, or wine, or… anything.
One of my strengths – and joys – as a photographer is to find beauty in everything. We live in a world of miracles. I could never choose one place as my favourite. However, if really pushed, I would have to say it’s where I come from – the West of Ireland.
From your work, can you please select one or two you are most proud of and tell us the background story?
This book was based on the four elements, and required a lot of rapid improvising. I also decided to use purely photographic techniques, so no computer manipulation. This was one of the first images, shot in a tiny office. I just floated the dish in a big aluminum pan and moved it around. All shot in ten minutes.
This (below) is a good example of finding a light that expresses the identity of a chef. Pascal is a true eccentric, and a chef of seemingly the most total simplicity and elegance. There’s nothing flashy – the light has to show this, but still be beautiful. And the book was all shot on the rubbish bins in a tiny courtyard outside the kitchen! With Pascal, we worked in sessions of one and a half hours every month, and I had to shoot four or five dishes and 40-50 ingredients in this time slot. That’s extreme, but I always work very quickly. I find it much more creative for everyone involved.
You’ve been exposed to many of the top fine-dining restaurants in the world. Can you name some personal favorites?
Astrance, Le Petit Nice, Hedone, Sushi Mizutani, Jin, The Ledbury, Yukawatan.
What are five things you can’t live without?
Camera, computer, books, Burgundy, passport.
What’s next for you?
Travelling to Azerbaijan tomorrow, a day in Baku, and then up to the Caucasus on the Georgian border, for a story on Azeri food – which is excellent!
To view more of Richard Haughton’s work, visit www.richardhaughton.com