I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I’m not the only wine and food ninja in Brighton. There’s a secret society of us. Well, there are two. The other is Xavier D Buendia, who trains at the same school of assassination and espionage as me.
Not only is Xavi the best food photographer in Brighton, he’s also a former chef and sommelier. His work is a cocktail of passion, skill, science and art, and he’s in high demand among the city’s top restaurants — including The Chilli Pickle, Drake’s, Silo and Riddle & Finns.
When he told me he was working on an exciting new project, I had to find out more…
So you’re launching a new food platform. What’s that all about?
Yes, it’s called The Food Stuff and it’s a mix of things related to good food, good service, good design, good people… good food stuff in general. It’s hard to explain the concept but once it’s live it will make sense.
We’re teaming up with marketeers, videographers, designers, suppliers and more, creating a strong community. There’s going to be a blog… I know, there’s one too many of those already but we are not just foodies, we are gastronomes, we know our stuff and what we’re talking about. It’s going to be educational and hopefully it will serve its purpose.
You used to be a sommelier. What did you learn from that, I mean in terms of life rather than just wine?
Haha this is a tricky question so I gotta be careful… Firstly, I learnt that the service industry wasn’t for me; I love wine and food, more than anything but selling and serving it is a different story. I suddenly lost my passion for the service industry and I wasn’t prepared to give my life to it anymore. I learnt that there is a whole new world with many differert colours outside of a restaurant and I learnt that wine knowledge as well as other talents and interests could be used in many different ways.
What parallels do you see between food photography and art, in a more classical sense?
Photography is art; it’s that simple. Everything we know about light, composition, colour and shape comes from the fine arts. It’s already been done and written but in different disciplines.
Where do you think Annie Leibovitz gets her compositions from; where does David Loftus get his window lighting? The same with food photography, naturally.
Actually, right now I’m working on a campaign for Riddle & Finns, inspired by still life. I’ve spent months looking at still-life paintings from different periods. Another campaign I did, for Señor Buddha, got me to look at a lot of Joan Miró’s work, Caravaggio’s light, and back light used in fashion portraiture. Here’s what the shoots are looking like…
What are your three top tips for photographing food?
Drop your phone, get a camera, learn how to use it. Haha now seriously, I don’t know. There’s too much to what I do. I always tell people it helps if they know food, love and respect food, and want to pay tribute to the food presented in front of them. To me it’s not simply composing, focusing and pressing a button, there’s a whole world of knowledge and ideas behind each photograph. Just practise and find your style.
What about shooting wine? Do the same principles apply?
Nah, don’t take pictures of wine, drink it! Leave that to product photographers on a studio. You’re not shooting THE WINE but the bottle or glass containing that wine. Now, if you really want to photograph wine, get on your car and drive to your nearest wine cellar; documenting the stories behind the wine, the people making it, the place where it’s made, the fruit, the soil… That’s much more interesting than a bottle. A bottle of wine on a table is just a prop, a distraction.
Which camera do you use and what’s the best lens for shooting food?
One that I love too much…
I’m not a gear head so I don’t know. Anything that you can afford is good but invest in good lenses. Big cameras are unnecessary unless you’re shooting for billboards. The vast majority of pictures are used on digital media nowadays so don’t be silly buying a medium format if you’re shooting for Instagram, Facebook and newsletters.
Back to your question, I use a Nikon D800 and a Sigma 24-35 f/2 Art. It took me about three years to find the right combination of body-lens to get the results I wanted. I tried every Nikon lens, every third party lens and nothing satisfied me. I would end up making my pictures look like someone else’s.
Then I tried this Sigma about a year ago and it was like grading from your white belt… a whole new world of possibilities opened. Some like to use 50mm, some 85mm, just go for what makes you feel good about your pictures.
Who are your influences? Generally, not necessarily photographers.
Music firstly, I’m a huge fan of classical music, prog, thrash and death metal. If I’m stuck with something while editing or researching I just grab the guitar, turn it up to 11 and let the ideas flow.
Painting is probably equal to music; I like all the classics, particularly the Dutch and Flemish masters and the Italian renaissance masters. I love Mexican muralists and Soviet communist propaganda posters. Gothic and romanic art… anything with an oompf and cojones, the more brutal, the better!
Also I love design and architecture. Art deco, Bauhaus, modernism, pop art… I’m constantly looking at images, trying to absorb as much as I can. It’s my visual vocabulary that I try to enrich. I rarely look at photography, I prefer to find answers outside of my craft.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made on your journey so far?
There are plenty but the most recent was having this section on my blog where I would rant about the catering industry, sharing anecdotes and personal stories. It’s fun to share these over a glass of wine, but not openly on a blog. It nearly cost me a few regular clients.
What kind of wine do you like?
I’m a huge defender of continental wine, in strict order I like wines from Spain, Italy, Croatia, Germany, Malta, Greece, and Austria… maybe France, depending on my mood. I like exciting and adventurous wines, I like author wines but most important, I like my red wine chilled!
And, as a ninja, what have you learned from martial arts that has been useful in your professional life?
Awesome question! Kindness, compassion and empathy firstly. Like I mentioned, spending too much time in the service industry did no good to me so I had to re-learn these traits and change a few bad habits. Just watch Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen to get an idea. Discipline and commitment second. These are fundamental for running your own business. It helps me nurture the mind, spirit and body.
Check out Xavi’s work at www.xdbphotography.com