Book Design Decisions

This document builds on cyanotype decisions and is designed to explain and analyse my decisions in a way I hope my final assessors may find helpful.

There would appear to be an expectation, rightly or wrongly, that SYP will see a continuation of Body of Work culminating in an exhibition, book or anything that makes the work available to a wider audience. I don’t regret my choice of subject, abandoned medieval villages, and found writing my dissertation absorbing and rewarding. Whilst my assessment result were unexpectedly positive I had no desire to continue this work in sustaining my practice. Put simply landscape is not where I see my practice in the future.

The decision to produce a new body of work with a very different aim was prompted by the realism in December last year that this assumption to continue existing work was not what I wanted to do. It did prove a catalyst to clarify where I want to take my future practice. Food and the food industry has formed my entire working life and my next project after SYP will focus on a political aspect of food with photography that places a determined emphasis on artistic merit with a well-researched and documented narrative that underlines a commitment to a documentary practice centred on food. Not pretty pictures on a plate!

I have the OCA to thank for this understanding of what I need to do to produce this work, (I am planning extensive research and would not have done this before writing a dissertation) it will be a medium term project and one I am excited to get started with once SYP is finished.

I needed a new project then for SYP, one that met the course criteria. The decision to produce another cookery book was prompted by several customers at my cookery school and SYP seemed to me to be an opportunity to realise this. I produced my first book during lockdown 2020 and it has sold well. I also learnt a lot during this process, learnings that could be applied to a new book.

The intention from the start was to produce a ‘kitchen manual’ rather than a recipe book. This would be based around information that I talk about on workshops but is not written down anywhere. If I added them on to the recipe sheets we email out to customers it would make them too long. But I do get asked, and several customers have suggested that I write everything down. This approach means that I have a captive audience and a company (mine) that will sponsor the work. Is this taking the easy way out? Arguably yes, but it is a realistic approach to putting my work in front of a wider audience too. I do intend to approach independent publishers as well but am comfortable realising this project as a self-published work. I will use the school to launch the book, probably inviting regular customers. Of course food and drink will be provided!

The challenge with producing a ‘manual’ limits, to a degree, ‘straight’ photography and I did want the work to reflect my love of photography, film and alternative photography. Cyanotype is a technique I practiced in a level 2 documentary module and enjoyed the process. In a sense all cookery books are also photo books but are more than visual essays, the text is in theory their raison d’etre and the photographs support the text. A reading of the photographs in an academic sense is not required. People used to buy such books primarily for the information and instruction they contain, imagery, until the 1960’s limited in the whole to occasional line drawings.

 Cookbooks today have moved far beyond this and use photography to suggest a “lifestyle story, images the reason to cook” (Finney 2020). Food which looks too precise and neat on the plate is eschewed in favour of food that looks a little messy and therefore more achievable and appetising.  A quick Facebook search for Michelin* chefs will demonstrate what I mean. The food is controlled so precisely it appears to exist in a visual sense only, we are not really meant to eat it. There exists a dichotomy between what we expect to eat out and what we like to eat at home. People come to Rutland Cookery School mainly because I teach how to present in a more restaurant styled approach and this rather flies in the face of evidence that suggests people today want only messy, easy food. The trick is to cook food that is delicious but also to put a little care and thought into its presentation. Perhaps not for everyday cooking, but for when friends come over or you want to impress a little. Believe me, first-hand experience proves that an awful lot of people appreciate this style of teaching.

To produce a manual illustrated only by cyanotype would therefore turn the clock back 60 years and it was decided to include new recipes that we use at the school that would fit with the informative parts of the book – a couple of rice recipes to follow the page about rice for example. This then suggested ‘straight’ food photography. Stephanie Jackson, publishing director for Octopus Books says that “images have become the reason to cook…and if a book is light on images we are unlikely to give it a go” (Finney 2020) – and we are certainly not going to try and cook without a picture of the finished dish.

‘Straight’ photographs of ingredients is an option, but I want to achieve a different aesthetic and made the difficult decision to combine two different approaches to imagery within one book. I am making quite an assumption that this will work, I can find no evidence to support this approach, as far as I know it has not been done before. That doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t, or perhaps it does. The Taste of Britain (Laura Mason and Catherine Brown) comes closest with line drawings that are similar in appearance to cyanotype but in different shades, lilac, grey etc. I have an advantage however: “Cookbooks are bought because you are invested in that person, you like them and their story. Images are crucial to that.” (ibid) and we have hundreds of customers that are invested in us as a small business they like and enjoy returning to.

There are cookery books that blur the distinction between food and art, Le Corbuffet, Edible Art and Design by Esther Choi for example and of course, Modernist Cuisine The Art and Science of Food by Maxime Bilet and Nathan Myhrvold. Forgotten Fruits by Christopher Stocks – a guide to Britain’s traditional fruit and vegetables uses line drawings, produce, landscape and documentary photographs juxtaposed seemingly at random.

In a small way this is exactly what I teach at the school, cookery with a little bit of art and science and the book will be a reflection of that.

Finney. C. (2020) How Food Photography Transformed The Humble Cookbook Into An Aspirational Entity [online] [Accessed 19.04.23]

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