Behind the CEWE PHOTOBOOK with London Food Photographer Sue Atkinson
Sue Atkinson is a well-established, professional Food and Drink Photographer who has been commissioned by the likes of Krispy Kreme, Warburtons, McCain’s, Tetley and McDonalds.
Sue has recently created a CEWE PHOTOBOOK to showcase her portfolio of Food Photography and is now a proud owner of a tangible collection of her work – which she can cherish forever.
As photography is at the heart of what we’re passionate about, we spoke to Sue about her incredible career and her love for capturing food at its finest.
Meet Sue Atkinson
Sue was born in Berkshire, not far from where she currently resides. Alongside photography, gardening is her ‘most serious pastime’ to which she adores her garden. It provides the ‘perfect balance to the long weekdays’ in her central London studio. Sue has always been interested in food – ‘both growing it and cooking it’ and her ideal get-away is ‘a week exploring some remote countryside on foot by day and sampling the local produce by night.’ Sue has been in her current photography studio for nearly 24 years and describes it as ‘an old Mews stable on two floors’.
Aside from enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside, long-distance walking, clay pigeon shooting and ‘the occasional bit of foraging,’ Sue also loves the buzz of London. You’ll find her visiting exhibitions, concerts, the theatre and dining out at restaurants – ‘they are truly different worlds with different perspectives on life!’
Sue’s CEWE PHOTOBOOK
When preserving photographs that are important to you, from happy family memories to your most important work, a CEWE PHOTOBOOK will bring your images to life with our high quality, premium printing.
"The reproduction is simply beautiful and shows up every last detail of my images. The book even arrived before anticipated! As a result, I am absolutely delighted with my CEWE PHOTOBOOK and very proud to show it to people as representing my work as a professional photographer."
Creating a CEWE PHOTOBOOK allows you to take the time to reflect on the past, often sparking a lifetime of memories. After creating a portfolio of her work, we spoke to Sue about her photography and how she turned her passion into a career.
Where did your interest in photography begin?
I have been interested in Photography since I was 11 but only became serious about it when I left school at 16 and went to college. Here, I was inspired by my tutor and had the option of taking a Photography GCE. I had intended to go to Art School to study Fine Art and Art History but after completing an Art Foundation course at John Cass School of Art, I realised my true vocation was photography. When I enrolled on a part-time professional photography course at the Polytechnic of Central London (now Westminster University), I was lucky enough to work with some great tutors.
A turning point was when an advertising photographer unwittingly set me on the food photography route. I overheard him talking to another student, saying “No, I don’t think food photography is right for you.” Having spent several weeks trying to photograph a set of sherry glasses, and breaking one or two in the process, the idea of food as subject-matter immediately appealed to me. With all its wonderful organic shapes, colours and textures – I was hooked.
How did you become a professional photographer? In between study and part-time teaching, I began sharing a studio in Windsor with my long-term business partner, critic and mentor, Mike Roles – who is an artist and photographer. Alongside several commercial and industrial clients (which involved photographing aircraft brakes and ceramic filters!) we largely paid the rent with wedding photography at the weekends.
I gradually built up my food portfolio by practising my own test shots in the studio. I then began shooting recipe photography for cookery books for a local publishing company, providing my own props, styling and working alongside experienced food stylists. I remember one of the earliest titles was a microwave cookbook – they had only just been introduced and were very primitive. The recipes were pretty dull, and it was a real challenge to make the food look half edible – a lot of it resembled concrete after a very short period!
In the early 1980’s, my special interest and research into the history of photography allowed me to lecture at a higher level. I took up a full-time teaching post for 2 years at the Metropolitan University of South Wales, Swansea. Meanwhile, I was continuing to develop my client list. While I was teaching 4 days a week, I worked on my free day and at weekends on cookery books. Having enjoyed my teaching experience, I felt the pull of my personal work more strongly, so I quit teaching. This gave me time to carry on both my professional photography and my part-time research studies into the History of Advertising Photography in Britain at the Royal College of Art, where I attained my MA in 1988 and PhD in 1995.
Spending more time in the studio, I experimented and diversified my photographic techniques. I mainly worked on 5×4 film and using Sinar cameras – sometimes up to 10×8 – and began to take on more varied projects. At this time, M&S commissioned their own photography so I worked directly for them.
Various clients were not prepared to come to my Windsor studio to shoot, so I began hiring studios in London. In 1996, I moved into my present studio in Grafton Mews and began taking on much more high-profile clients and projects from editorial through to advertising.
Has there been a defining moment in your career that aided your success?
There has never really been a defining moment in my career that helped me become successful – in fact, looking back, there is very little pattern to it at all. However, winning my first big billboard campaign for the new M&S Simply range in 2012 marked a very significant point. It came as a real surprise to me as I had shown the Art Buyer my portfolio not many weeks previously and honestly felt like she wasn’t very interested.
When the agency call came unexpectedly, they wanted to do a test shoot over the weekend using daylight in the studio. At the time, the next-door building was all wrapped in protective blue plastic and I was terrified it was going to throw a blue cast over everything – but it all worked out fine. Only a couple of weeks later, we began shooting the campaign – all using the daylight from my one little window!
Have you ever had a ‘pinch me’ moment?
It is always a good feeling to come across your work in print, particularly when you’re not expecting it. I think a real ‘pinch me’ moment I experienced was when I was driving along Euston Road one evening and saw the McCain’s chips ads that I had worked on with BMB London. They were all over the London buses and on the hoardings. Another pinch me moment was when I heard that the so-called “Unbranded” campaign I had just shot for McDonald’s (with a great team from TBWA France) was creating quite a storm there. That was a wonderful feeling too.
What does photography mean to you?
Photography helps me define how I feel about the world and the things that really interest me. I am most inspired by natural, organic form and the way light plays on the small simple things of daily life that are so easily overlooked. Photography is my means of acknowledging them so I can draw others’ attention to them.
"If I were less impatient, I would probably enjoy drawing. But as it is, I am seldom without a camera!"
I think that is where I differ from many photographers whose interest is primarily in controlling the objects they photograph. I want to celebrate the inherent beauty in the things I see and share it through my images. I try and capture an element I can only describe as a bit of magic – a bit like Narnia hidden behind the wardrobe – that what you see is not quite everything. There is a little bit of something still hidden from view, which makes whatever I am photographing more fascinating to me. In my still-life’s there is often an ambiguity – an object appears obviously as one thing but also suggests another. I do not go looking for the extraordinary but if it presents itself to me I have to celebrate it – whether in the bubbles of a frying egg, a small patch of light on a pavement or the silver and gold abstract patterns in the skin of a fish.
Do you have an amusing story or experience that led to a great photograph?
I had an experience many years back where – far from being in control – I had to use a bit of creativity and imagination to rescue a shoot from potential disaster. I was working in a hire studio at the back of Kings Cross Station, which at the time was a very run-down area. The shoot was bread and baking for Ideal Home magazine and just as we set up for the main double-page spread, there was a major power cut, leaving no direct light coming into the studio at all. Outside was a concrete balcony beyond which the winter sun was sinking rapidly – quick thinking was required!
With no option to place the set in the sunlight, I sought about for a mirror and found one in the washroom. I then arranged the set in the shadow of the concrete wall and bounced the golden setting sunlight back onto it. Although it was a little bit stressful, it worked a treat and totally suited the subject-matter. That was all shooting on 5×4” film when photographers needed all their technical skill and wits about them. With technology, it is a different story these days!
Another notable project was difficult to control for another reason. For a Godiva shoot, I had to create curved chocolate and caramel splashes. After extensive experimentation, we created the effect by whacking the surface of a large container full of fairly runny “product” with a small weight fixed to a wire! It worked really well but covered me and the studio with splashes as well! Years later, I am still finding the odd dollop of dried caramel on my kit…
Food for Thought
If you’d like to view more of Sue’s Food Photography, head on over to her website. Or, if you’re a budding Food Photographer, you may be interested in finding out more about Sue’s Masterclasses too.
Sue is about to launch a sample sale, so don’t miss your chance to purchase a print (some of which have never been seen before!)
If you’re feeling inspired to showcase your own work, now is the time to create your very own portfolio with a CEWE PHOTOBOOK – just like Sue!