Grains on a Plate

Harriet Baylis meets Food Stylist and Photographer Chris Tonnesen

As our Instagram accounts become increasingly flooded with over-stylised (and over-filtered) snaps of our meals, and magazines are page after page of artisan foods with an arty edge, it seems the food photography game has become one for everyone. Not so for Chris Tonnesen, whose fresh Nordic style is as synonymous with Chris himself as the crisp light and texture of his images.

He is the epitome of the modern clash between cool, sophisticated photographic style and a deep understanding of not just food but every single ingredient. Not content with food alone, his portraits of those in kitchen are as beautifully sympathetic to his subjects as they are a window into their lives behind the lens.

How did you get in to food photography? Since I was a teenager I’ve always enjoyed photography and have played around with it; later on this turned into playing around with Photoshop but I guess I didn’t realise that photography was something that I could make a living from. It was all just fun to me. I started at a business school in a smaller city in Denmark, and to be blunt I was bored out of my mind. A friend then told me that she had applied for the photography course in Copenhagen and my jaw dropped; someone had just handed me the keys to my future. I quit the business school and moved to Copenhagen. If I hadn’t found photography, then I would most likely at some point have ended up in a kitchen somewhere. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and the whole nerdy food scene, so when I got my apprenticeship with Denmark’s finest food photographer Line Klein everything sort of clicked into place and I’ve been at it ever since, enjoying it all! Back then I would have never thought my two hobbies would come together to become my work.

Chris Tonnesen

Food styling and photography has seen an enormous growth in trend, how do you stay original and unique? By keeping at it and going at it with everything you’ve got – everyday all the time – and believing in your own raw talent; trusting your gut basically. Obviously the competition is rising and becoming more and more fierce, but that also exposes me to more material and forces me to push myself every time; keeping me on my toes.

How would you describe your style? For some reason a part of me cringes a bit when my style is described as being Nordic, but however it’s probably right. My style is clean, crisp and cool. I try to convey honesty, passion and intensity with my images. A good friend of mine coined the term ‘Nordicously cool’ and used it to describe me and for some reason that sounds about right.

Who is your inspiration in the industry? At the moment I really think that the Swedish photographer Per-Anders Jörgensen is killing it. I also just recently spent three months working for Brooklyn based photographer Vanessa Rees, her style is really unique, playful and totally different! I suppose I am often looking at photographers who are doing things differently to me, so that I keep my momentum going. I am also inspired very much by chefs – like my friends from Restaurant Bror who are doing “trash” cooking and Lasse from GRØD who exclusively cooks porridge. Hanging around people who are creative in another way energises me.

How do you go about putting together the ideas for your shoots? Honestly it is very different from job to job. It depends a lot on who I am shooting with. Sometimes the products tell the story themselves, and it is just a matter of capturing its natural beauty, keeping it simple and not messing too much with its purity. Sometimes I spend a lot of time scouring through books, magazines and Pinterest in order to build up a universe that I feel supports the subject matter. I love both ways of going at it, both are fun in their own way! And I love that there are no definite ways to go about it.

Whose photo would you most like to take? All the young talented chefs out there who haven’t been ‘discovered’ yet! Or Jiro Ono, I have the deepest admiration for his dedication to his craft! I would also have loved to photograph a young Johnny Cash.

Who would be at your ideal dining table? I think it would require a really big table, like a banquet! Food is best enjoyed when shared and I have so many good friends here in Copenhagen that I would love to share it with. I’d rather spend it with my close friends than famous people I do not know. That said, I wouldn’t say no to having lunch with Richard Avedon, the American fashion and portrait photographer. 


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