Still-life photographer Louise Hagger, who has shot food for Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, the Glenlivet and Gordon Ramsey’s new cookbook, says many of her advertising clients increasingly want collaborate with photographers, so they are asking for her input on campaign briefs. “More clients now are saying: What do you want to do? What are your suggestions?,” says Hagger, who is based in London, “whereas it used to be: Here’s the brief, go and shoot it.” A photographer’s style might catch the eye of an ad agency creative, but to land the job, the client has to be sold on the photographer’s concepts for marketing the product and delivering the brand’s message.
In the past year, Hagger has produced two printed collections of personal projects, tests and favorite assignments that demonstrate how she brings to life the concepts and her stylists concoct. In January, she printed a booklet titled “A Year in Food.” “I mailed it to art directors and commercial clients, to say: This is what my year in food looked like, and I hope this inspires future collaborations in the new year.” The booklet features many of her favorite collaborations with prop and food stylists. “The idea of the photographer being ‘the leader’ doesn’t sit comfortably with me,” she says. Many of her collaborators have become her friends, she says, “so we work very intuitively together, feeding off one another to create a shared vision.”
Among the projects featured in “A Year in Food” are a series of stills she made with stylist Olivia Bennett and set designer Rachel Vere, showing fruits and candies in a kaleidoscope-like pattern. She had shot the images as a test, to create stop-motion Gifs. She explains, “My brain works as a stills photographer to sequence still images, rather than storyboarding to create a moving image.” She adds that clients are frequently asking for short motion pieces that can grab consumers’ attention on Instagram. Taking inspiration from the way a child’s kaleidoscope twirls and merges images to form patterns, Hagger, Vere and Bennett brainstormed ways to create hexagonal-shaped images and mirrored effects.
Using triangular pieces of reflective acetate placed on the tabletop to serve as mirrors, Hagger photographed citrus fruits and candied jellies. By moving and rearranging the food in different patterns, Hagger created about 40 images. Vere recommended an animator, part of The Monday Club, an animation studio in London, who then turned the stills into a stop-motion video, set to music created by sound artist Dale Berning-Sawa. Hagger displays the video on the motion section of her website. She also included the stills in the printed portfolio she brings to client meetings and in her promo, which she gives to clients after meetings. “I like the book format,” she says. “It’s a more intimate relationship between the viewer and your work.” (See: “Are Printed Portfolios Still Necessary to Make an Impression on a Client?“)
One of the creatives who received the “A Year in Food” in the mail was Claire Lillis, art buying director at Havas. She contacted Hagger when the agency was looking for ideas for Rekorderlig, a brand of ciders and low-alcohol beverages made from a fruits and botanicals. Hagger suggested her kaleidoscopic GIfs as a way to showcase Rekorderlig’s seasonal flavors on social media. Hagger and Bennett prepared some treatments for Havas; “They wanted us to suggest everything for the motion elements,” she explains, including their selection of glassware, props, sets and the backgrounds that would suggest the colors of different seasons.
They landed the job. Working with the same animator, Hagger and Bennett produced several stills and several Gifs, including one that looks like a turning kaleidoscope. She also created cinemagraphs: Capturing pours or the lengthening of the shadows, she was able to create some subtle motion which she captured on video, swapping continuous lights for strobes. (Coming up in PDN’s November/December issue: Hagger will explain how she lit the still and moving images.)
Whether working in motion or stills, Hagger’s favorite kind of project is “focused on storytelling.” Her other self-published book of 2018, A Carp in the Tub, is built around stories she heard from the renowned food stylist Victoria Granof, who collaborated with Irving Penn and numerous other commercial and editorial photographers. When Hagger, who is based in London, was visiting New York City in 2017, she arranged through a mutual friend to meet Granof. Over lunch, Granof described the winter she lived in Ukraine while waiting to adopt her son. She recalled that one morning, her landlord told her, “If you want to take a bath, do it today. I’m bringing the carp tomorrow and it lives in the tub till Easter.” At the end of their lunch, Granof encouraged Hagger to send her ideas for collaborative projects. Hagger suggested they portray moments from Granof’s the winter in Ukraine—and show the recipes that Granof had gathered.
Working with prop stylist JoJo Li, Hagger turned Granof’s Brooklyn apartment into a facsimile of Granof’s residence in Ukraine. They even bought a live carp who swam in Granof’s bathtub. Hagger shot all the images in a single day, then Granof sent her an essay and recipes. Hagger worked with designer Owen Evans to make a self-published book. Viewed in one direction, the book displays all of Hagger’s images—including the carp photo, which is printed on a fold-out page. When the booklet is flipped over, the reader can follow Granof’s collected recipes. A Carp in the Tub won first place in the Personal Work category of PDN’s Taste awards, and her photo of a whole chicken in a pot was a finalist in the British Journal of Photography‘s OpenWalls competition exhibited during Les Rencontres d’Arles in France. The book is available for sale in The Photographers’ Gallery in London, and Hagger also uses it, like A Year in Food, as a leave-behind for clients.
Hagger is now thinking about the commercial, editorial and personal images she will compile in her next edition of Year in Food. “I plan to produce this annually with the hope of turning it into a book,” she says. “Hopefully after ten years, it will be published, to showcase a larger body of work.”