This 20 questions is much over do and I have to start by apologizing to Jeff for not getting this out quicker. He says he’s a shy guy but when you get him talking about food and photography he’ll deliver some great answers and create more questions. He met and worked a few days with Ansel Adams which has to be the equivalent of getting a stage at Alinea or el bulli.
We’ve all looked at great cookbooks and wondered, “How do I make the dish that good?” Jeff delivers a great feel for food through his pictures and has traveled the world while doing it. I snagged 20 minutes of his time before he was heading to France for his next shoot to ask about photography and his other passion, food!
Name Jeff Kauck
Age 55, 56 – you sure? No, 56
University Central Academy of Commercial Art
Twitter Handle @Kauckphoto
1. What did you have for dinner last night?
Jeff: I ate at Spiaggia, so good. We started with the sardines, then salmon carpaccio, boars head pasta, veal and then a whole collection of cheese and port.
CFS: That sounds good.
Jeff: Tony Mantuano is a magician
2. Place you eat out most often?
There’s a collection of places I go, Avec, Publican, Salpicon, Green Zebra.... Plus my wife is a great cook so staying home is fun.
4. If you got $10,000, how would you spend it?
Holy smokes, $10,000 my wife would probably take it. (laughs) I’d go on a trip.
5. First word that comes to mind when I say Michelin?
6. Favorite Charity Event that you work with?
7. Last weekend on earth – what city are you taking pictures in?
8. If you weren’t a photographer, what would you do for a living?
9. Most exotic vacation destination?
Vietnam and Madagascar
10. Most embarrassing moment around photography?
Jeff: (Laughs) No film in the camera, when working with a well-known chef.
CFS: How long did you go before you realized it?
Jeff: Probably 100 frames and I lost the moment. He looked at me like I was an idiot.
CFS: Who was it?
Jeff: Alex Atala in Brazil
11. Person you would most like to do a photo shoot with?
12. What are you most excited about right now?
Great time to be in the industry! We’re starting a new cookbook project in France and we’re in the middle of a book with Paul Virant and a few others we’ll work with in town that haven’t started yet. Plus, I have some personal projects going on.
13. Do you have any pet peeves?
Jeff: In the industry – it’s amazing how advertising clients work hard to figure out who they want to work with but then don’t let me do my thing.
CFS: So they get in the way?
Jeff: Hmm, here’s a better analogy – if you work hard to find the right dentist and then go. You trust them to do the work rather then tell them how to do their work and use which tools.
14. Do you have a specific equipment company you work with for cameras and lenses?
Jeff: Well I work with three a lot and they’re all great, Canon for editorial work. Hasselblad in the studio and a personal camera I’m never without is a Leica.
CFS: So is the Leica your point and shoot?
Jeff: It’s actually not a point and shoot it’s a rangefinder, Leica M9. It’s a wonderful camera that is also very frustrating. The Leica doesn’t allow me to get comfortable. I’m struggling to get what I want and forces me to work hard to get the right picture.
15. You were a painter then became a photographer. How has that helped your photography?
I was a watercolor painter and I started very young. So my foundation was about color and scale. What makes that different is there is no white in watercolors. You have to be aware of the white space and when you paint over it it’s gone. With oil paints you add the white last. So a water color painter is very aware of the highlights and puts the shadows in last. I approach photography through asking where my highlights will be and how they’ll effect what I’m focusing on.
16. Thing about taking pictures most novices get wrong?
Jeff: The most common thing is to turn the flash off. People should work harder on composition and not just a smiling face. Find their visual voice
CFS: People should work on their thirds?
Jeff: If we take 10 of your friends and 1,000 pictures I want them to pick the 10 you took because they know how you see things. That’s your visual voice. People need to work harder on that. It’s a great time to get in to photography and many don’t know the techniques. They just turn the camera on auto and go and never have a voice.
17. Is there a project you haven’t done yet that you want to do?
I would want to do some consignment work especially with my art stuff. There’s obviously real work and I’d love for someone or a company that my personal photos would work for. I’d be able to do what I want to do and they take it for what it is. When it comes to cookbooks, I’d love to do a coffee table cookbook and have a signature piece.
18. What makes a good food shot?
Jeff: There are two avenues – editorial is story telling – can smell the earth and feel the place. In advertising you get one shot and it has to be iconic and tell the story - about the chocolate cake. It’s moist and the strength of the brand you're working with. You can have two burgers but if one is fast food and the other is organic they feel different.
CFS: So you need a subject and what is the eye being drawn to and is that what you want to come across especially if you take it from different angles.
Jeff: Ya, and you hit on a very important element particularly in advertising, the visual bite zone. You want to make sure the package shot has the name, the flavor and everything that’s required and know that its food and make sure people go to a specific area through lighting that we want them to go to.
19. Is there a huge difference between what film used to be and what digital is today? I’m old enough to remember film!
Jeff: Big film, 8x10 film, talk about dating myself. Nothing comes close to that. Analog in any industry is different than digital. There are subtleties from big camera film they’re yet to replicate. There’s an organic feel, it took 150 years to perfect film and we’ve only dealt with digital for 15. Film was expensive per click so you had to work hard when you clicked and it’s not just blasting away with digital. There is some beautiful digital photography going on but I don’t think that’s because its digital.
CFS: I agree. For me, it seems in bigger pictures there’s graininess or texture where digital is so polished it can appear contrived. If I took a 1,000 pictures even I can come up with 2 good ones. It’s taking the time to know what you want to achieve.
Jeff: I’ve been around a long time and was lucky enough to work with Ansel Adams in the darkroom for a couple days. He had a negative and made mistakes but he knew why and what he wanted in his mind and did a lot to get the shot to where he wanted it to be.
20. You’ve taken a lot of food shots is there one that stands out as the best?
Tony Mantuano, fresh pasta. There’s a luminous quality to pasta with butter. We were in Italy and it was magical. He’s got such a passion.
21. You take a lot of pictures of items versus people. Is that a conscious choice?
Yes I suppose. I’m pretty shy and I don’t deal with directing people well. I’d rather photograph an inanimate object. It comes more natural to me. It’s the same with my painting. I try to make something come alive.
22. What advice would you give to those just starting to get in to photography?
Jeff: Career or fun?
Jeff: For fun turn your flash off and have a good time. If you want to get in to it as a profession…this isn’t a job it’s a passion. You must be passionate shooting pictures 7 days a week or thinking about it. You’re always drawing ideas or thinking about changing an idea or story around. You need to realize it’s not about the camera, settings but digging to tell a true, pure story.
Jeff thank you again for the time. I look forward to chatting again soon and grabbing that beer. I might have a few pictures for you to look over and critique!
If you liked these 20 questions, check out the how Ryan Poli, Francis Brenna, Giuseppe Tentori, Charlie McKenna, Chris Pandel , Michael Muser, Curtis Duffy , Rob Katz/Kevin Boehm, Michael Taus, Chris Curren, Patricio Sandoval, Bill Terlato, Matthias Merges , Vic Perdue, Sheila O'Grady, Adam Rapoport, and Andrew Knowlton answered.
Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. A former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef you can find him on twitter @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Joe is retained as a compensated blogger by Pei Wei Asian Diner. and contributes to Eater Chicago.