How to make dead fish look attractive? That’s the challenge New York-based duo Shimon and Tammar Rothstein faced when they were hired to do the photography for famed French chef Eric Ripert’s book On the Line.
The book has been out for a few years, but it caught our attention again when it popped up on photography blog Feature Shoot this month.
Ripert’s specializes in delicately prepared fish. And the motto of his Michelin three-star-rated restaurant Le Bernardin in New York is “The Fish is the Star of the Plate.”
So in his book, Ripert wanted to show off all the fresh ingredients that went into his cooking — especially the fish. But as Tammar tells The Salt, no one wants to shoot a dead fish.
The photographers’ brilliant solution? Pose the dead fish as if they’re still alive. The resulting images might not make your mouth water, but they are strikingly beautiful.
“I thought it was the best way to show the fish in the most authentic and real way,” Tammar says. The husband-and-wife team shot all the photos in the salon of Le Bernardin. So they covered up the fancy carpet and started tossing around the seafood.
They used high-speed flashes to freeze the fish in mid-air. And they got the Le Bernardin chefs to throw buckets of ice and water over the fish to make it look as if they were swimming in the sea.
Of course, the photographers also shot photos of fish after Ripert expertly prepared and plated them. And those photographs look much more conventionally appealing to the palate. Their goal with the raw ingredients was to make them look as fresh and natural as possible.
But some fish are more photogenic than others. Their biggest challenge? Monkfish. “It’s really gross looking,” Tammar says. “It was our Moby Dick.” The first time the Rothsteins came face to face with the dreaded creature, Ripert wanted them to photograph it for another one of his cookbooks.
“And we just couldn’t find a way,” Tammar says. “There was no way we were able to shoot it.” This time, they were determined. It was too slimy and floppy to toss up in the air. So Shimon tried putting it in a glass vase. “And all of a sudden, the mouth popped open so it looked like a flower,” Tammar says.
He’s not the prettiest flower. But he sure looks fresh.