Tim Clinch Photographer - England, France and Bulgaria

When did you first realize the impact food could have on your photography?

I’ve always loved cooking, and always been interested in food so it was a logical progression. You must remember though that I’m quite an old bloke and have been a photographer all my working life. When I left art school in the 70’s, food photography was not fashionable and nor, for that matter, was cooking. There were few food programmes on the telly and the concept of the “TV Chef” and dedicated food magazines hardly existed. Hard to believe these days, but food simply wasn’t ‘fashionable’

I would assist on a few food shoots but back then it was all false. A ‘roast chicken’ would be a raw one, coated with used engine oil to make it look ‘roast’ and with cigarette smoke blown over it for the steam! And ice cream, under all those hot studio lighting was made with instant mashed potato!!!

Even back then I thought this was weird, so I started my career as an advertising still life photographer and had various different studios in London, before moving on to interiors, food and travel, which is what I do today.

Not all your food photography is taken in the kitchen: you transport us to villages and markets. Can you expand on this?

I would say that very little of my food photography is taken in the kitchen. Food for me means travelling and finding out about new foods, new cultures and new ingredients. My ‘philosophy’ of food photography (without trying to sound TOO pretentious!!!) can be summed up by this piece I wrote about the workshops I run…

“What exactly IS food photography?

Well…in the ‘food photography’ workshops I run, this is the main point I’m trying to get everyone to think about.

Ok, a plate of cooked food alongside a recipe is definitely ‘food photography’. And how about the raw food, before it’s cooked? Well, I guess that’s ‘food photography’ as well, right?

Ok, so how about a beautiful picture of a clove of garlic, on an antique linen background? Well, yes, I suppose so, but it’s verging towards still life isn’t it?

And how about the field where that garlic was grown? In Gascony. At dawn… with the sunlight just hitting the tops of the young garlic, ready to be harvested? Yeah, ok, but isn’t it landscape photography really?

And the picture of the farmer who grew the garlic, arms bulging with a huge bundle of freshly picked produce? Well, OBVIOUSLY a portrait!

And the picture of the farmer’s grandmother sitting in the outhouse at the farm, studiously plaiting the leaves to make the beautiful bunches of spring garlic the family have been selling at the local market for the last fifty years?

A portrait too I hear you cry!

Discuss the close up work of the produce you photograph?

There’s not that much to discuss. I believe that in food photography the star of the show should be the food… and close-ups merely serve to highlight that.

As discussed above, the seller/producer is a vital part of food photography. I’m not a studio based food photographer working on the perfect drip or dribble. There’s nothing wrong with that type of photography but I want my pictures to take you on a journey, and showing where the food comes from is a vital part of that.

Many photographers prefer to work in black and white most of your work is about colour. Please discuss this?

Well…I LOVE B+W photography! In fact I’m a columnist and regular contributor to the world’s biggest selling magazine devoted to black and white photography ‘BLACK + WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY’ magazine. It’s a great magazine and I’m proud to be associated with it. However, the one thing I have never managed to photograph sucsessfully in B+W is food! The very essence of food photography is that it should excite the senses and make you hungry, and this just doesn’t seem to work in B+W. I’m talking here, by the way, about cooked food. Plated food. I have many a wonderful picture of funny looking vegetables or flaky heads of garlic that are beautiful in B+W…

What is it about Europe and food that makes us all want to photograph it?

I am European and I love Europe with all my heart! If someone were to say to me that I could never set foot outside Europe for the rest of my life, I would die a happy man! There is so much to see and so many cultures and traditions to explore that I’ll never tire of it. I moved to Spain 25 years ago and lived there for nearly ten years. When I went there it was not fashionable. The food was relativelty unknown and many people I knew were baffled. Now of course, Spain and Spanish food is the most fashionable in the world. But it was not always so.

The exciting thing for me now is the opening up of Eastern Europe. Many people I know will go on holiday to Provence or Tuscany (two regions that I do NOT ever want to visit again as they have become devoid of real life and ended up as glorified theme parks… ”Provence-Land”… “Tuscany-World”) but never THINK of visiting anywhere else. I’ve just moved to a village in rural Bulgaria where the food and wine is amazing, the countryside is beautiful and there is not a Swiss investment banker in sight! The thrill I get every day is the same thrill as when I first visited France in my early teens. It’s foreign, and exciting, and about as far from the tourist trail as it’s possible to get.

Food photography just keeps on growing. Recipe books are now a work of art, both for the taste buds and visually. Can you expand on this comment?

Has it grown too far? Has it got just the teensiest bit… boring? Possibly. There is an absolute wealth of wonderful stuff out there, but it’s in danger of becoming overwhelming. I think the important thing nowadays is to be selective. Buy the GOOD cookbooks. Read the GOOD blogs. Don’t feel you have to buy or read everything. You don’t. There’s more to life than reading about someone else’s dinner.

Can you explain about your work: Chefs?

Yes, I have, over the years, spent a lot of time photographing in professional kitchens, and have worked with some amazing chefs. And, every time I do, I realise what a solitary profession photography can be. I get a kick out of the ‘team buzz’ that goes on in a kitchen… each member of the team reliant on the next. They are pressurised places and the looks of concentration and the sheer pleasure on some of the faces are a joy.

Michel Troispros instructing his staff, Restaurant Troisgros, Roanne, France

Let’s take a step back from the kitchen and table to your work with interiors of hotels. There is usually still a hint of food in these photographs. Can you tell of one or two exceptional hotel locations and the shot?

Well, last February, I was commissioned to shoot the amazing ‘Faena Hotel + Universe’ in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires. It was an amazing and beautiful hotel and I was delighted with the results the downside of my trip was that, having spent my life wanting to visit Argentina, in a twelve day shoot, I spent exactly half a day outside the hotel…ho hum. I hope I’ll get back there one day.

Faena Hotel + Universe, Buenos Aires, Argentina

I’m also very proud to have worked closely with the famous French chef Michel Guerard and his designer wife at their incredible ‘Empire’ in Eugenie-les-Bains in South West France for many years. Proud, because over the years their hotels and restaurants have been photographed by just about every magazine and every photographer worth their salt. And the photographer they commissioned to take the pictures for their own website was me (puffs chest out slightly!)

Your work takes you to many locations and leads you to take travel photographs – can you share one or two great places and photographs?

Yes, I’m a lucky man. I have visited some wonderful places. And been paid to do so! As I explained earlier, I’m particularly excited about Eastern Europe. I’m English, and there are so many places to explore a couple of hours away from England, but so few people visit Bulgaria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia… the list goes on, and yet most people couldn’t point out these places on a map! The most exciting place I’ve been to for many years though is Ukraine. In particular, Western Ukraine, and more particular still the wonderful city of Lviv and its surrounding area. We just came back from a truly memorable two week trip, the highlight of which was a visit to the Carpathian Mountains. It was like being in my own personal episode of “The Hobbit’! I felt like the lord of the Shire!

Traditional Hutsul house in the Carpathians, Western Ukraine

However, as to my favourite country in the world? It would have to be Spain. My home for nearly ten years and an endlessy fascinating and delightful place. From the baked plains of Andalucia, through the wonderful capital, Madrid and on Northwards to the misty mountains and the wonderful food of the Basque country. I love it.

Ironmongers shop, Hondarribia in the Spanish Basque Country

You also do still life photography. You can make the simplest objects into piece of beauty. Can you expand on this?

Simply because most simple objects ARE beautiful. We just don’t take much time looking at them. I love the sheen and patina of old tools for example. Taken out if context, and put on a simple background they take on a life of their own.

Now you have completely tantalized us, can you explain about the workshops you run?


OK…things on the ‘Tim Clinch Photography Workshops’ have changed a bit. For the time being I’m not doing any workshops in Gascony. I hope, at some point in the future that they will be revived but, for the moment, I’m concentrating on two locations. My new base in the fascinating country of Bulgaria, and in Southern Spain.

What is planned

Some exciting new things! I’ll be running several workshops on food & travel photography in and around the beautiful city of Veliko Turnovo in Bulgaria. It’s an endlessly fascinating place and completely different to what a lot of people will have visited. I’m planning some exciting adventures for 2014 and will be announcing them all in November.

I will also be running 2 or 3 workshops in southern Spain. I’ll be doing one at the beautiful Finca Buenvino in the Sierra de Aracena, and one (or two) in the province of Cadiz concentrating on the incredible fish the area has to offer.

Details will be announced in November 2013

A bit about what a reader might need to know to book.

Everything will be under one umbrella now, so keep checking in on the workshops page on my website www.timclinchphotography.com

All booking details and prices are there.

I will also be undertaking ‘bespoke’ workshops. If you, or you and a group of friends, want to visit Europe on a ‘learning tour’…let me know where and when you want to go and I’ll organise it…all.

The percentage of photography, eating and visiting the location.

Well, the workshops are billed as ‘Food & Travel’… take a look at what I’ve said about food photography earlier in the article.

I firmly believe that you’ll never be a better food photographer without becoming a better PHOTOGRAPHER…so, visit beautiful places, cook and eat amazing fresh food, discover new wines, learn new recipes and improve your photography and post production skills and benefit from my thirty five years of experience all at the same time… what’s not to like!

Contact details.

Website: www.timclinchphotography.com

Email: tim@timclinchphotography.com

Tim Clinch, England, France and Bulgaria

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, November, 2013