For some food lovers, it’s all about the taste. For others, it’s the smell. For Matthew Klein, who earns a living taking pictures that make people drool, the secret ingredient is texture.
“There’s a physical law that says your eye is drawn to the point of greatest contrast,” Klein explains. “And if you look at what texture is, it’s defined by darker edges against light. So if you capture an image of food that shows contrast, you’ll show texture, and people will be drawn to it.”
If Klein sounds like an engineer at times, it’s because he’s the son of one, and he’s also a former architect himself. While the influence is clear in the form and structure of Klein’s work, he’s somewhat ambivalent about his architectural past. “The study of architecture is the best training for practically anything expect architecture,” he says. “I’m not joking.
Architecture is not about buildings—it’s about visuals, aesthetics, and history, plus the client’s needs and concerns, all of which you then synthesize to create a set of directions. If you can create great visual expressions that way, you can probably do anything visually that you want to do.”
After trying his hand at another visual medium—painting—Klein made the big leap to photography as a full-time occupation, where he is constantly synthesizing his clients’ needs with his own aesthetic vision to create images that whet customers’ appetites. Call it…architexture?
“That’s good,” Klein laughs. And that may be the crux of Klein’s appeal. He can create images that seem to have been just plucked from the garden or pulled from the oven, but they’re actually pictures that have been crafted and honed through meticulous, detailed preparation. It’s a recipe that his clients find particularly tantalizing.
A Bird in the Brand
Take, for instance, Klein’s recent work with Birds Eye. Long known for its frozen foods, Birds Eye had hired a consulting company to enhance the brand’s identity. After examining their freezing process, the consulting firm came up with a plan to market the concept that “flash freezing” vegetables right after they’re picked preserves their healthy qualities a lot better than if you shop at a farmer’s market, where vegetables may have been sitting around for days. Klein was called in to capture images that showed vegetables’ freshness for Birds Eye’s new packaging.
He calls branding campaigns like the Birds Eye one a “very collaborative process.” “Birds Eye wanted to repackage their product as a kind of health food, so they wanted images that emphasized freshness,” he says.
In branding, the concept is often the easy part. The challenge, Klein says, is translating that concept into a visual image. “How do you do it? Do you make them moist and dewy, or show them dry?”
In this case, the vegetables Klein was shooting—including the broccoli and carrots shown on page 38—he started by spraying the vegetables to make them look dewy. Klein later realized this would be a disaster.
“Because the method they used to reproduce the images onto the polypropylene freezer bags couldn’t hold the tones, they didn’t look fresh at all—they looked moldy,” he says. “It was a long project, but with a great client. They allowed us to go back and do it again, and this time the images turned out great.”
Tossing the Salad
In addition to trying to represent freshness, Klein wanted the Birds Eye vegetables to have a randomness that would make it appear as if they’d just been picked. Again, the concept seemed easy on paper, but was incredibly painstaking to execute. “The arrangement of vegetables had to have a look of spontaneity,” he says. “You had to have a random arrangement of height and length, as if someone had just put them on the table.”
Recalling his architecture days, Klein had ways to achieve this randomness. Number one: nothing vertical in the image. Number two: nothing horizontal. And number three: nothing parallel.
Sound easy? It’s not. “It has to look like they landed that way,” he says. “But you can’t just throw them up and hope they land right. You’ll be there all day.”