Sergio Coimbra: 'Chefs are Artists'

Sergio Coimbra: 'Chefs are Artists'


Food photographer Sérgio Coimbra, one of the most important professionals from gastronomic scene, reveals the secrets of the creative process behind his work.

Brazilian reputed food photographer Sergio Coimbra became one of the most popular professionals among chefs around the world for his authoral work and stunnig food photos. His career started more than 10 years ago, with publicity photos, food catalogs and food campaigns.

He recently opened Satoyama, an exhibit about the cuisine of Japanese chef Yoshihiro Narisawato show the world the work he dedicated himself to for the last three years. During this time, he made more than 14 trips to Japan to tour the interior of the country alongside chef Narisawa in one of his longest works. The exhibition is currently open to the public at Sao Paulo’s Japan House until 12 November 2017.

Fine Dining Lovers recently talked to Coimbra during the opening of the exhibit in São Paulo. There, he talked about his work in partnership with renowed chefs, such as Alex Atala, Quique Dacosta, Pierre Hermé and others, his discoveries about Japan and revealed some secrets of his creative process behind his photos (enjoy a selection of Sergio Coimbra's photos of famous chefs' dishes in the gallery at the top of the page).

“Of course chefs are artists”, Coimbra states. “Food is art in the hands of these professionals pushing the boundaries to a higher level by creating gorgeous recipes, with a rich aesthetic care”, he adds. The Brazilian photographer argues that since the first ever painted still life pictures we have learned to see the artistic value of food, something that the chefs have tried to elevate with increasingly sophisticated presentations. "Who could say the opposite?", he asks.

“I try to give the chefs total freedom, to interfere as little as possible in their work”, he explains. Coimbra says he is there with the camera in his hands just to push the button and record what the chef has done. "Even if a chef has already made a certain dish dozens of times, it never looks exactly like the previous ones. My job is to look at that dish and take all the beauty I can from it in color, textures...”, he says. His work, according to him, is a co-creation, which starts with the chef and goes through his look. "Many chefs, after seeing the photos ready, are impressed because I end up highlighting something that they had not even realized, even creating the dishes every day”, he points out.

Coimbra says he prefer to make all the photos he can inside his studio, built specially for this. Located in a 1000ft² building in São Paulo, this is the place where magic happens. With hundreds of dishwear that he buys during his worldwide trips (from delicate cups of chinese ceramics to modern plates by nordic designers) that he maintains in warehouses with each piece catalogued – many of them haven’t even been used yet, and might never be used – the place is impressive.

Coimbra also put together an entire team of carpenters to create exclusive backgrounds and frames for his photos (he likes to recreate even external landscapes inside) and built up a more-than-professional kitchen (better than many from starred restaurants) where chefs can prepare their dishes to be photographed. His team has more than 10 people working daily – and can get to more than 25 during photo shootings. All of this structure is available for the chefs, who can peack whatever they want. “I never stick my oar in their job. My job only starts when the chef assembles the dish as he wants. In the studio, I have the possibility to take photos at different angles and with all kinds of lights. There, I can control every detail of the photo. I created a space for that, and you're better playing in your home ground”, he laughs.

Coimbra says this is one of the most important works he has done in his career, because of the fact thathe has left the kitchen and gone to nature, leaving behind all the structure if his modern studio and all the equipments he usually carries with him when he photographs starred dishes. "This was a very different experience for me, not only because I had to take a more organic photography, in a more documentary way, but mainly because I could be close to the producers, to be able to trace all the ingredients before they get to the plate”, he explains.

“I have visited Japan on other occasions, and I was appalled by the country's modernity. But in these last trips, I met a traditional, rural, rudimentary Japan that I could have not imagined”, Coimbra points out. During the trips, he and Narisawa traveled by train, by car, by plane and by boat in search of suppliers. "I went to Japan in every season so we could register the unique ingredients according to each one of them", he adds. Coimbra says he was amazed with the care with food and with the fact that some ingredients are so crafted.

Coimbra tells Pierre Hermé called him after knowing his work and asked the photographer to visit him in Paris next time he would be in the city. “I went and in our fist conversation we had already created a working schedule”, he says. They are co-authors of the book Chocolate, in which the renowned French pastry chef displays his artistic mastery in this homage to chocolate through Coimbra’s lenses. “Since the beginning, he let me do whatever I wanted . It was really exciting because, besides the recipes, that are masterpieces themselves, I was able to look for artistic and totally aesthetic ways of photographing one of the most beloved ingredients in the world, with the support of one of its best masters”.