A Work In Progress photographer Ditte Isager on René Redzepi, Noma and that James Beard Award
Following yesterday’s announcement of René Redzepi's A Work In Progress winning the James Beard Award for photography in a food book we thought we’d phone its photographer, longtime Noma collaborator Ditte Isager, firstly to congratulate her and secondly to ask her a little more about the project, that led to the book, that led to the award.
Ditte, who's just returned to Copenhagen, Denmark after seven years in New York, heard the news on Saturday morning. “I immediately texted René and said ‘We have to get to work on the next one!’” she told us. Her relationship with Noma goes back over ten years when René Redzepi originally approached her to work on the press pack and website for the restaurant. She worked on our Noma book (published in 2010) which also won a James Beard Award for her photography.
“When we got started on the new one, A Work In Progress, we wanted to do something different but that was still in the spirit of Noma," she told us this afternoon. "René wanted to do his diary thing so Christine (Rudolph, stylist) and I did the styles, the moods and the colours. We wanted to keep it very pale and clean so that it was significantly more sophisticated than the journal. (A Work In Progress comprises three books: the recipe book René’s journal and a picture book).
"We wanted them to be like little paintings. The way René composes a plate is like a painting so I thought about the textures and incorporating that painterly style into the photography. Eating there inspires me. Every time I go there not only the ingredients and the food but also the way he places things, the way he composes the plate and the food and the taste of it, surprise me. He can combine innovative food but he never compromises with the taste. I love all the dishes.”
Following the publication of Noma, Ditte watched contemporary food photography follow the award-winning style she'd helped define. There was only one riposte to this of course and A Work In Progress pushes the bar even higher – two visual ideas are central to this. Rudolph built a little corner for the strangely beautiful dead animal photographs that open the recipe book and Ditte photographed the changing seasons, month by month, around the Copenhagen restaurant.
“We wanted to do it a little bit differently so we built the little corner for all the dead animal shots. You have the whole animal and the blood – it’s a little crazy what’s happening with these ‘ingredients’ juxtaposed with the calmness of the landscape and combined with the cleanness of the plates. René, Christine and I discussed that endlessly.”
And does she have a favourite shot in the book? “I love the one with the birds (Jays - shot in February). There’s something really magical about that one with the colours of the birds and the mist. It was taken just around the corner from Noma and it was one of those typical mornings with all those blue and grey tones - very typical for Denmark!”
You can buy A Work In Progress here and Ditte’s first book with René Redzepi, Noma here. Meanwhile, you can check out René Redzepi's page in the Phaidon store here and visit Ditte's site here.