Photographers who Inspire - Nicky and Max

"Whenever me and Max meet up for one of our brainstorming sessions, we finish with too many ideas and a bit of a headache…(I love them!)".

You KNOW how I love collaborating. I mean, REAL collaborating when you are working together with someone else on a creative project. You meet. You brainstorm. You butt heads. You have ideas. You work through them. Some you discard, others you develop further. Some end there. And some go on to something special.

But it's always different than what you could have done on your own. And, I believe, better.

I have done most of my creative collaboration in music - jazz music that is. Even wrote my master's thesis on creative collaboration. More about that another time. Promise!

Imagine my surprise and delight when I came across the collaboration between photographer Nicky and food stylist Max. 

Let's look at some of their photos before I tell you more about them. They have quite the range in style.

Ever think that anyone's food photography would be inspired by a design movement? Yup - it's Bauhaus tabletop styling. Think Mies van der Rohe and his Barcelona chair and buildings. His philosophy of "less is more". A design movement "adapted to our world of machines, radios and fast cars". A style that would represent modern times in the early 20th century. The antithesis of romanticism and adornment and ornamentation and excess. Streamlined. It lasted until 1933 when it was shut down by the Nazi's.

Nicky and Max bauhaus photography food

First, a vintage Bauhaus poster.

Angular. Modern. Graphic. 

It's from 1923 - it doesn't look that dated. That's almost 100 years ago.





Now Nicky & Max's interpretation of Bauhaus.

Nicky and Max bauhaus food photography

More Bauhaus-inspired. A side-note - Nicky & Max are based in Berlin. The last three years of Bauhaus (1930-1933) were based in - yes, Berlin.

nicky and max food photography

But being Nicky & Max, that's not their only idea. Here's a more romantic styling. Note how you are drawn into the photograph from the bottom left, with your eye curving around to the right and ending on the red pepper. So dark that you can barely see the knife in the foreground.

nicky and max food photography

Everyone has a coffee photo. A shallow depth of field coffee photo. But see how on the left the focus is on the middle of the beans? How it's cropped before the horizon? And then on the right, a shallower angle, almost head on, with the horizon cutting the bottom third of the photo. The focus on the crema with the depth of field so shallow that most of the glass is out of focus. Cool, bluish tones.

Would I have put these two together? Probably not - and that's why I'm not Nicky & Max. It works well.

nicky and max food photograpy

I look at this and imagine it's a present that I have opened - surprise, some asparagus! I like how it's cropped on the left and the bottom. As an amateur I would have chosen a more boring composition with more cropping on the left and less on the bottom. Still, notice that it has the classical 2/3-1/3 proportions with the placement of the asparagus. 

nicky and max food photography

I just enjoy the building blocks of the sandwich on parchment. A clean, fresh grid.

nicky and max food photography

Overhead shot of the tomato sandwich but angled from top left to bottom right. But not exactly overhead with the grater and the wooden cutting board following the lines of the wood grain. Notice the cropping that makes it seem as if it is a moment taken from a panning shot over the table.

nicky and max food photography

Who are Nicky and Max? Nicky's a photographer from London who moved to Berlin in 2011 to live a different kind of life. Max worked in restaurants in France and Germany and returned to Berlin in 2009. He styles food. They met. They collaborated. And luckily for us they started their blog January 2012 to share their projects.

What do you think about their collaboration? Can't you just feel the energy and the excitement? Don't you want to visit Berlin? Have you ever collaborated on a creative project? 

(Want to see other photographers who inspire? Check here).

Photographers who inspire - Dietlind Wolf

Well, to be honest, this post is about photographers/photographic stylists who inspire since Dietlind Wolf wears both hats. More than two for she is a visual designer, prop-stylist and photographer. In her words, "a collector of remains and arrangements". 

She is part of my series "photographers who inspire" that I am presenting so that I can learn as much as I can about still life photography. This is my own schooling right here. And what I learn, I'll share with you. That's how we operate around here - we've always been good at sharing.

You may have seen her work already - she's most recently been in the summer edition of Sweet Paul.

I wanted to introduce her to you and show you more of her portfolio because I find her work fresh, original and creative. Sometimes whimsical. Always inspiring. Challenging. Not always sweet and nice. She plays with the conventions of food and still life photography. 

Let's start with some lowkey shots (unless otherwise credited, the photographs are by Dietlind as well). Lowkey means less light. There still is often a high contrast between the darkest and lightest parts of the photograph but overall it's a composition and styling that is moodier and darker.

Torsten Suedfels, photographer

This one I find interesting for two reasons. First, contradicting what I said earlier, there is actually less contrast between the darkest and lightest parts of the photograph than you usually would see. It's almost muddy looking yet the orangey/red flower in the middle is lit a bit more. Second, the angle - it's not right overhead but it is also a much steeper angle than the usual 45 degrees.


Walter Cimbal, photographer

Now some whimsical photographs.

In this one she plays with the concept of props. One of the goals of a food photographer is to bring 3 dimensionality to a 2 dimensional photograph. She turns that on its head by having two dimensional props - the outline of vessels and cutting boards. And the props have moved by the second photo with the addition of the sandwich. It's not just a vignette, it pokes fun at being real, at having been used. Finally, the angle of the viewer is neither overhead nor at 45 degrees or so in front of the vignette - we are looking at the scene from the right side.

Again playing with 2D and 3D - now with a silhouette of a wine bottle and glasses.

Carsten Eichner, photographer

Flowers in a vase. Pretty standard, right? Not here. The flowers are deconstructed and the petals strews about. The vase is 2D (paper perhaps outlined with wire) and with the flowers they lie flat on the surface. The bird is stuffed and the stems and leaves are from a geranium, not the flower in the photo. The diptych itself looks like it has been slammed together with the intentionally uneven cropping.

This next one plays with our sense of direction. What is up and down? Are these both overhead shots or not?Are the lemons falling between the bowls? The wooden spoon looks bent - can it still be used? What is the tape for - is it keeping the bowls together?

Some more traditionally styled photographs but still with unique touches.

Dietland has presented a lovely photo of a flower but also hinted at the artificiality of the styling.The second half of the diptych has a crooked horizon line. You can see the wrinkles in the fabric that the vase is sitting on and the corner of the fabric ends before the backdrop does. It's almost like the styling version of a Mies van de Rohe building - you see the construction, nothing is hidden.

Another diptych in a style that we have seen before elsewhere - the ingredients and then the finished product. But again, neither the tabletops nor the exposure matches. Even the lines of the planks in the table are at right angles.

Julia Hoersch, photographer

Love the monochromatic choice plus the textural contrasts. I had to look twice, three times when I first saw this photo before I realised that it was cheese wrapped in the cheese cloth. Not really the rule of thirds either for composition.

Ulrike Holsten, photographer

Another ingredients/finished dish diptych.  In the first photo not only is the egg broken but some of the plates as well. You have to break an egg to make an omelette but the plates too? And the second photo hints at an egg with the oval platter and the perfectly circular omelette.

Ulrike Holsten, photographer

Dietlind did a few of these in a series on diets. 

And my favourite right now, the two deconstructed diptych poppies. An intense background colour. Were the poppies torn apart intentionally or carefully? We are left with only the poppy centers. The photos are taken from overhead yet the first photo hints at a vertical styling with the loose petals gathered around the vase.

Aren't these fabulous? Don't you find them inspiring? Which ones are your favourites? Why? 

Themes of Light and Dark

I have been thinking a lot about light and dark lately. Opposites. Binary. One or the other. Either/or. This or that. Pick one. Make your choice.

It's been appearing in my photography too as I've been experimenting with light and dark compositions of the same flowers or food. 

I know myself enough already that if a certain theme keeps coming up for me, I need to explore it further in words and in images.  

I've been thinking about how we limit ourselves by thinking this way. Or how I limit myself. The words we choose when talking to people. When we talk to ourselves. Where do you live? What do you do for a living? What are you going to do with your life? Do I choose this job or that one? Better make a choice. Better make the right one.

Let's start with where do you live as an example. My husband and I talked recently about how we can be a bit "two in the bush" about where we live, whether it be a certain city or a particular house. We have the "bird in the hand" yet often yearn for the "two in the bush". Yearn for that tweeking, making this change or that change and it will all be perfect.

And what about what you do for a living? Melanie of Inward Facing Girl asked me to write about motherhood in anticipation of Mother's Day, both my experience of mothering and of being mothered. One strong message that I got growing up from the women around me was that their lives WERE this or that. You could either be a mother or you could have a life where you followed your passions. There was no combining, no balance, no give and take, no slack. Or if there was, it was in the leftover moments once everyone else was fed and watered and cared for.

There is a part of me that wonders what life would have been like if I had stayed in the same place and at the same career with the same people. But I don't wonder for long because that never WAS me. I was that 11 year old dreaming of leaving my small city and moving to NYC. I don't know how but I KNEW that there was more out there for me. 


So does it have to be this or that? Do we have to pick one career or one place to live or one way to live? Are they mutally exclusive? How do we celebrate our varied interests and passions? How do we choose?

Maybe the answer is making a decision that is good enough for now. Not necessarily good enough for tomorrow or next month or next year but just for now. Maybe by avoiding the light or dark, the this or that, I can lower the stakes a bit. And take a breath and just be with what is right now. Here. In this space and this moment.

Maybe the answer is exploring and embracing the "and" - motherhood AND creative pursuits. Perhaps not in equal amounts of time but with equal amounts of respect and commitment.

Maybe the answer is accepting that I am both the light and the dark. This AND that. Not just one thing.


I can't get enough of Tabletop Photography!

I have a confession to make - I have a problem. I can't stop thinking about it. I can't stop looking at the photos. I CANNOT get enough of tabletop photography, whether learning about it myself and practicing it or researching other professional photographer's works.

You know that I just finished this course with Nicole, right? If you are at all interested in taking better tabletop photos, do it. Take the course. It won't cure your addiction, it'll just make it worse. But that's okay, right?

Now that the course is done, I have been brainstorming about what to do to keep learning and growing. It's going to be a new series - some of it my work (that hopefully will be improving over time) and some of it the photographers who I find inspiring. I'll be taking one or more iconic photographs from their portfolio and breaking it down for all of us - what is it specifically about that particular composition or lighting or colour that makes a particular photograph work?


So stay tuned as I search out and hunt down those amazing tabletop photographers and showcase some of their work. Plus challenge myself to keep improving my own brand new skills.