Today, I baked a loaf of bread that is difficult to categorize. I used two-day old, high-hydration, long-fermented sourdough pizza dough, stuffed it with olives and doused it in olive oil like a focaccia, then baked it in a closed dutch oven like sourdough bread. The result: a dense loaf with a crispy fried crust that’s perfect for cutting into wedges and making a fried egg and salsa sandwich. I can feel my mouth watering with the memory of eating it as I write about it. It’s a good thing I have three wedges waiting for me in the kitchen.
Early in quarantine, I started cooking, then fermenting, then baking more seriously. And, then, I started taking photographs of my food more seriously. And, then, I started watching YouTube videos on food photography. And, then, I bought a real camera — my Fujifilm X-T4 — to become better at food photography. And, then, I bought a few lenses for my camera, and they opened up a whole new world to me.
Very quickly, I realized that I won’t enjoy many aspects of food photography. I can’t see myself styling my food with tweezers and brushes and spritzers as it gets cold. I can’t see myself setting up lights and diffusers and reflectors and flags and tripods every time I want to photograph food. And, I can’t see myself sprinkling pomegranate seeds and brushing oil on every dish so that it becomes more photogenic. My food photos might look better, but I’ll stop enjoying making food, photographing it and eating it, so there won’t be many food photos to begin with.
When I bake pizza, I get the most satisfaction from the half-day process of baking the pizza. In the morning, as I drink my coffee, I take the dough out of the fridge, scoop it into the cast iron pan, and leave it to loosen up and rise. At mid-day, I stretch the dough, shape it into a circle, sprinkle olive oil on it, and put the toppings into the oven for roasting. By the time I take the half-roasted toppings out of the oven, throw them on the pizza base, and put the pan into the oven, I’m dying from hunger. I can hardly wait to let the pizza bake before I take it out and swallow it whole.
The pizza — or the loaf of bread, or the flatbread, or the cake — needs to be photographed in the minute between I take it out of the oven and put it on my dining table. So, I have learnt to photograph my food in strictly snapshot mode; for a while, I even went back to photographing food with my iPhone X to reinforce this snapshot mode. The pizza pan comes out of the oven and goes on to the cooling rack next to the kitchen window. Maybe I would put a wooden spatula or kitchen towel or oven mitt or an artificial branch of olive leaves next to the cast iron pan. Perhaps, I would (artfully) toss some basil, mint or oregano from my kitchen herb garden on the pizza. And, in the thirty seconds between sprinkling the garnishing on the pizza and scooping it out of the pan, I would pick up my camera, frame the shot, and photograph the pizza. I think that’s all the food styling and lighting my food photographs are going to get, at least for now.
This is part of a broader wisdom I am learning to live, in quarantine: to protect my enthusiasm — whether it is baking or photography or writing — by approaching them with a gentleness that I haven’t practiced before. I’ll bake when I do, I’ll photograph when I do, I’ll write when I do, and I’ll do it for the pleasure of baking, photographing or writing. And, as I’m learning to be gentler with my enthusiasms, I’m learning that they remain my enthusiasms for longer, and I spend time with them more regularly, and I enjoy my time with them much more.