Fine-art food photographer Gary Goldsmith loves food and loves to photograph it. He also loves to entertain and has a reputation for sometimes allowing a bowl of lettuce and tomatoes to edge out guests. "About seven years ago I had eight friends over for a dinner," he recalls. "We were about to sit when I shouted out, ‘Wait! This salad cannot be served until I shoot it.' I grabbed my Contax RTS III loaded with Kodachrome K25 and a 60mm macro lens, then dove into the bowl." Thus was born one of his all-time-favorite images, "Gary's Salad," a compendium of carrots, bell peppers, and tomatoes with a dash of dill on top.
Goldsmith is renowned for larger-than-life images of heirloom tomatoes, as well as intimate portraits of artisanal breads and Japanese eggplants. He's the golden boy of grains who kneaded a food career into shape as a delicacies buyer for Bloomingdale's flagship store in Manhattan and later while helping launch Macy's Cellar: "I had been photographing various subjects since age 17, but it was my personal relationship with gourmet food and food presentation that became the frosting on my cake."
His fine-art creations hang in private homes, restaurants, company headquarters, banks, galleries, and museums. Among the corporate accounts for whom a photo is a mere phone call away are Grey Advertising, The Swiss National Bank, Long John Silver's, and Blinds.com. Goldsmith photographs plated fantasies, open-air produce, market delights, and fields where his subjects grow. He also dabbles in producing art imagery of farmhouses, flowers, landscapes, and abstracts.
Goldsmith is a film photographer-somewhat of an endangered species. His signature look relies on exclusively Fuji emulsions-primarily Velvia 50, Velvia 100, Provia 100F for outdoor shots, and tungsten Fujichrome T64 Professional Type II for indoor work-his norm for 20-plus years. "There's something magical about film," he says. "It's like listening to vinyl records versus CDs. I'm known for creating these supersized food images that restaurants love and foodies adore. When you photograph something as minute as a raspberry and blow it up 2,000 times its normal size, you risk losing texture and detail with digital."
He points to a favorite photograph that almost everyone thinks was taken in Tuscany and that made the rounds as part of the Fujifilm traveling exhibition. "It's a shot of an old winery in Napa Valley, California, taken on a clear December morning," he says. "I developed this image as a 20"x24" for my home as a LightJet print. I later blew up the image to produce a six-foot-long version that hangs on the back wall of a Long Island, NY restaurant. I suppose you could make an image that large with digital, but you'd lose a lot of its character."
Goldsmith acknowledges digital has improved greatly over the years; many of his friends are trying to convert him. He agrees that digital post-production has tremendous advantages, especially since his large 30"x40" and 40"x60" photographs yield 150MB-size scans. "However, only film can produce stunning prints in those larger dimensions and still maintain a high dynamic range and sensitivity to light and produce the level of detail I need," he says. "For now, I'm staying with film."
He uses only Contax equipment: "There's nothing like Carl Zeiss optics. I like the Contax RTS III and the medium-format Contax 645, plus the T2 P&S camera. My newest love is the Contax G2 Rangefinder, perfect for marketplace use-it's lightweight, fast, and quiet."
Eighty percent of his images are produced using either a 35mm or a 60mm macro. For outdoor lighting, Goldsmith uses natural to the hilt, working rapidly so as not to interrupt the bustle of commerce. When he's indoors, he'll pull up Tota-lights tungsten lighting from Lowel, and his 20-year-old Smith-Victor lights. Backdrops are whatever's handy-he's used towels, bags, tabletops, and bed coverlets.
Life As A Food Road Warrior
Shooting food is both an indoor and an outdoor sport for Goldsmith, hot on the heels of high season for his farmer's-market jaunts. From March to October, the passenger seat of his mobile studio (a champagne-colored 1998 Acura 2.5TL touring sedan) transports the requisite gear: the Contax bodies, the 35mm and 60mm macro lenses, a pair of tripods, and a vintage Billingham Hadley bag recently upgraded with a sister, the Hadley Pro, both filled with film.
The local producers know him by name as he makes the rounds in Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut. "Shooting food is a passion, and photographing food is what gives me such pleasure-even the simplest things like pattern, color, and texture can be so elegant," he says.
He delights in clementines, pepper piles, and the big tomato. "I use natural light and look for purity of design," he explains. "Images are never enhanced by darkroom techniques. Viewers experience exactly what I saw through the camera's viewfinder just before I touched the shutter release."
It's a pleasure trip home with a car loaded full of fresh fruits, vegetables, and divine smells. "Many of the farmers offer me produce after I shoot," he says. "I try to send back a print or bring one when I return. It does wonders in building relationships."
After a day in the field, Goldsmith pulls up to his G2 Photo studio in the Berkshire Mountains. Goldsmith shoots thriftily, generally no more than two to three rolls of film. He accumulates 10 to 15 rolls of film and then sends his chrome film to McGreevy ProLab in Albany, New York. The film is processed and returned within three to four days. "I then do a first rough edit," he says. "All go into slide sheets, and I scrutinize under a Contax 5x loupe in sessions of about three to four hours each day." If producing for a client, he reviews, edits, picks the best, then scans in-house with a Nikon COOLSCAN V ED.
The next step is to email the client: "They then let me know what's desired and I order a master from NancyScans in Chatham, New York. They use a Heidelberg Tango drum scanner. Besides their superior work, the company keeps copies of my digital masters, so this is a second archival location for me."
In-studio archiving is aided with iPhoto keyword tools. He's prepping for a studio move and looking forward to a big tech upgrade. One treat will be the addition of Adobe Lightroom.
For output, Goldsmith again taps NancyScans. LightJet prints are output on Fuji Crystal Archive paper; other work is done on an Epson 11880 wide-format inkjet printer: "For inkjet printing I prefer Museo Silver Rag paper. I'm also trying canvas for certain jobs, which can be really interesting."
He visits the lab to personally approve every print, with each becoming a limited edition signed by the photographer. Goldsmith also works with the client to ensure proper framing. "Framing keeps the integrity of the art," he says. "I like simple, clean, nondistracting frames and recommend Framed in Sheffield, Massachusetts."
To Market, to Marketing
The fuzz on Gary's market(ing) peach is his website, a.k.a. his digital portfolio. "An absolute essential for me is a clear, clean and current site," he says. "I use DFX Information Technology (www.dfxinfotech.com) for my site needs. It's an ideal fit and will improve backend operations. Among the upgrades will be a lightbox, blog, and Googlization." This new setup will also streamline a present system of emailing prospects and contacts his latest work.
Goldsmith also loves to make custom marketing cards from master scan images. His outsourced lab creates these on demand; Goldsmith estimates the average cost is $0.75 per card: "This promotional card program now includes 44 different images on 5"x7" high-quality card stock. They're an amazing way for people to see my work. Marketing on the web is like an appetizer; these cards are the salad; and seeing the exhibition print, especially when framed, is the main course. I send cards to my database of private collectors, past clients, and corporate accounts after a recent shoot that's particularly interesting or before an exhibition."
Goldsmith has participated in several traveling exhibits throughout the U.S., courtesy of Fujifilm USA. He also works with the R&D team from Museo Fine Art, formerly Crane & Co. One would think a fine-art photographer looks forward to gallery and art exhibitions. He rolls his eyes: "I've done enough exhibits in the past 20 years; I seldom go that route anymore, but when I do, I'm very selective. The last one I did was a group show (a first for me) titled ‘Locally Grown' at the Ferrin Gallery exhibit in the Berkshires. Since I love shooting the open-air markets in the region, this was a great fit for me."
He also cites the Tanglewood Wine & Food Festival as a perfect venue: "I display my images on easels and give out photo cards. I can talk with visitors and fine-tune my contact list. I picked up two potential collectors and a restaurant lead and had a conversation with a Berkshires lifestyle magazine."
Goldsmith also books business with books. He has an ongoing project where he's developing the prototype for a children's educational series with partner Adriana Keseru called "Gary Goes to the Farmers Market" with his photos. Goldsmith also shoots in the States and Normandy, aiding writer Angela Phelan and noted Maryland chef John Walsh.
His sweetest assignment happened when he met Joshua Needleman, owner of Chocolate Springs Café, a nationally recognized chocolatier. "We've been working on photographing many of his supreme creations for marketing and promotional needs," he says. "After getting to know one another, Needleman asked what I thought about the art on his café walls. I blurted out, ‘It's abominable!' I guess that's not the best way to market, but Needleman did hire me to create images to display on his walls."
Food photography always has a sweet ending.
For more of Goldsmith's work, go to www.g2photo.com
Gary Goldsmith's Gear Box
• Contax 167MT, Contax RTS III, Contax T2, Contax 645, Contax G2 Rangefinder with 28mm and 45mm lenses
• Carl Zeiss lenses: 55mm, 80mm, 120mm macro, 25mm, 35mm, 60mm macro, 85mm, 135mm, 185mm, 70- 200mm zoom
• Velvia 50 (RVP), Velvia 100 (RVP100), Provia 100F (RDPIII)
• (Tungsten) Fujichrome T64 Professional Type II
• Apple Mac 8-core desktop
• Apple Mac G4
• Apple 22-inch monitor
• Nikon COOLSCAN V ED
• LaCie 320GB
• Adobe Lightroom
• Adobe Photoshop 7 (ultra-sparingly)
• Billingham Hadley camera bag
• Lightware case
• Cullman Titan Professional CT100 tripod
• Gitzo monopod
• Lowel Tota-lights
• Contax 5x loupe
• A great music system and iPod
• Hot chocolate from Chocolate Springs Café
• Erica Ryan-a great friend and framer who gives me space to edit my slides