Danish born photographer, Signe Birck, creates stunning culinary images with a refined delicacy that is often described as “sensual, comforting, ethereal, and luscious.” Inspired by and holding true to her Scandinavian roots, Signe beautifully captures the quintessence of any cuisine, working with chefs and restaurants to do their dishes justice.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up and how you got into photography?
I was born in a small town in the very southern parts of Jutland, Denmark, near the German border. From a very young age, I became fascinated with life outside of this small community, and I started to study and engage in sub-cultures, alternative music, movies, and literature. I spent my teenage nights dreaming about living in big cities. My parents were immigrants from Copenhagen and were very supportive and understanding. At age 18, I moved to London and never really looked back. Being the daughter of a musician, it was always sort of implied that I would do something in that area. However, I had always liked taking pictures. I started taking it seriously in my early twenties, and then everything just came together… I remember how, as a kid, I would always arrange my dinner plate thoroughly and artistically and say: Look, I made a food picture! So I guess I always knew, on some level.
How would you describe your personal and professional style?
Minimalistic is obviously a key word. To me, it’s very important to emphasize that the food is the main player and that whatever props may be involved are solely there to support the food, not to drown it. Too much clutter is interrupting and unnecessary. I scrutinize every detail in the photo meticulously, both while shooting and in post production, making sure that nothing is left to chance. My personal aesthetic is super tight, and I guess that reflects in my work.
What is your most unusual source of inspiration and how does that influence your work?
I’m often asked that question, but it’s actually difficult to put into words. Photography is very intuitive to me. I’m very observant of my surroundings, my radar is constantly on overdrive, my head very busy. I think my pictures serve a way to muffle the noise, bring some control into the equation and balance things out.
What is an average day like for you?
There is no such thing as an average day. I think every freelancer will agree to that. My work is much more than just doing actual photography. It’s a full-time job to get work, and I’m all over the map with meetings, research and what not. Being in control of your own situation is a blessing and a curse. It involves a lot of freedom, but you need to be able to take advantage of this in a productive way. More often than not I find myself “working” 24/7, without actually getting any concrete results. My friend said it very well: It’s not a matter of working harder, it’s a matter of working better. That’s my New Years resolution. Try to bring in some structure.
What are 5 things you can’t live without?
1 – Music. It’s a close second to what is most important in my life. Without it, I would whither away.
2 – My three nieces. I don’t get to see them very often since they live in Denmark, but fortunately modern technology allows us to stay in touch.
3 – White wine. Just because.
4 – The New York City climate. It’s definitely a source of much frustration due to the extremely warm summers and equally extreme winters. However, I need to see the seasons change, and I can’t enjoy one without the other.
5 – My friends
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Since I work (almost) exclusively in natural light, not knowing the lighting conditions of a given location before arriving can be hard. But for the most part, it works out just fine. Never knowing what tomorrow will bring can certainly be challenging too, but also very exciting.
What role do you play in the composition/plating of a dish you are photographing?
That depends on the shoot. Most chefs that I work with are eminent platers, and my input is only needed if I see something that is off somehow. When working on other projects, such as cookbooks, I tend to get more involved. I will always have an opinion, and never refrain from offering it, since in the end, I’m the one holding the camera and responsible for the outcome.
Please share one of your fondest memories while shooting with a chef or restaurant.
I have so many amazing memories! However, one that stands out must be the creation of Ronny Emborg’s The Wizard’s Cookbook. I had already moved to NYC when we decided to go ahead with the project, so we had to shoot it over the course of more than a year, having me fly to Copenhagen whenever possible. The restaurant where Ronny worked at the time is located in a basement with zero natural light. We put up a garden pavilion in the courtyard of the restaurant and set up a make-shift studio there. I’m sure you can imagine the weather challenges we endured! From suffocating heat to blizzards, storms, crazy rain and – the most challenging – ever-changing light conditions. But it was obviously worth it and so much fun!
Three people on Instagram you follow religiously?
My Instagram (@signebirck) adventures are only a few months old – I’m a notorious last-mover! – so I’m only just now starting to really get into it. It’s an overwhelming place to be, I have yet to discover all the amazing accounts out there, and I must say there’s a lot! If I have to choose three to highlight, I’ll go with some that I have a personal connection to, and that I believe deserve a shout-out:
@trendsontrends_ I have collaborated with Emily on and off on different projects for about a year, and I’m always interested to see what’s happening there.
@phaidonsnaps I’m obsessed with Phaidon, and I love to check in and keep taps on new releases.
Your most recent work on Wallpaper* magazine for Cosme, NY is beautiful. Is your approach to subjects other than food different? Or do you see them and document them with the same eye? (See Feature Here)
Like I mentioned before, my process is highly intuitive. I shoot food, people, and spaces using the same tools that are available to me. I very quickly map out the situation and then just go about my business. It’s important to remember that everything shows in a photograph, even things our eyes will otherwise compensate for. Shooting a space like this demands a great deal of aligning tables, chairs and decor, to secure that as many lines as possible are straight and that nothing will disturb the over-all look.
As a professional photographer of fine cuisine, what are your thoughts/opinions about the future of fine dining?
That’s a very good question. The beauty of the situation is that in this industry we deal with highly creative, driven individuals, and you never know when the next René Redzepi will emerge and turn everything upside-down. Being from Denmark, I still have a profound love for the Nordic region, and I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can expect to see from there. However, it’s no secret that Latin American cuisine is gaining a massive momentum, and I’m excited about that. I think we’ll experience a rapid increase in ingredients that we, five years ago, would not consider food, such as insects and previously undiscovered sea weeds.
Anything you’re tired of seeing or shooting?
I have actually developed a rather overwhelming pet-peeve toward the soft egg in any shape or form, both in life and in shooting. It’s everywhere, and I think there’s a tendency to cram that egg into everything just for the heck of it! Two years ago, the punctured yolk was a nice way to add a little life and motion into an image, but, enough already…
You’re constantly traveling for your work. In your opinion, what’s the best culinary destination and why?
My travels have actually been quite limited to Scandinavia, which I still think is a key destination for culinary adventures. I hear lots of amazing things about Peru, and that’s definitely on my list. Also Mexico is obviously exploding. In fact, I think Paris is experiencing a bit of a renaissance these days. It’s like Paris has always been taken for granted, but I feel like new, very interesting things are starting to sprout there. Personally, I can’t wait to visit A.T!
What’s next for you? Any projects you’re excited to work on?
I have very high hopes for this new year. I have been planting a lot of seeds and I have a feeling that now is the time to reap. I definitely have some very interesting projects on the drawing board, but I’m afraid I can’t really reveal what they are just yet.