Eating Around the World: Photographer Todd Selby On His Two-Year Book Project
Todd Selby captured the world’s attention four years ago when he started his now famous website The Selby, which offers an inside view of the interiors of creatives’ homes. About two years ago Selby launched his Edible Selby column in the New York Times’s T magazine, capturing sustainable food culture around the globe, from sea foraging in the San Francisco Bay Area to behind-the-scenes views of some of the most popular restaurant kitchens. Selby recently turned Edible Selby into a colorful coffee table book. ARTINFO spoke with the photographer about his experience as a food photographer, how he selected his subjects, and his Thanksgiving plans.
How did you go from a developmental studies major at U.C. Berkeley to a photographer?
I worked in politics for a while and I really wanted to do something creative, so I came to New York City and I tried a lot of different things and I ended up a photographer. I did logo design, I did flash web design, I did consulting for venture capital firms, I worked at a men’s magazine, that’s pretty much it.
Did you have any criteria when selecting your subjects for the book?
Of course. It was very much a process. I consider myself a creative documentarian, so I find people that I find interesting that I could tell visual stories about, and provide some kind of service to people that get the book, and it’s something interesting to me and the readers. It was very much trying to find people that had inspiring stories and were doing something very creative.
How is food photography different from shooting interiors?
It’s much more difficult. It’s much more intensive. Instead of being in a very relaxed home-type environment, you’re in people’s places of work, which is a totally different situation. Very intense and high-pressure places. It’s faster, working in much stranger lighting conditions, with so many people around. It’s very challenging.
Did you give any direction while shooting in restaurants?
It depends. Some were very fly on the wall, reportage style, and some were much more collaborative and involved. It really depends on the subject — if they wanted me to come observe what they do, or they wanted to get more into it with me.
Did you gain weight while shooting this book?
Did you get to eat at every establishment you shot?
Pretty much. I’ve been eating very well.
What were the most memorable places you visited?
There’s so many. It was like two years of my life working on this project pretty intensely and traveling the world, exploring, finding these places, and I feel like “Edible Selby” is very personal to me. It’s pretty much like a diary of my favorite experiences and places. People would ask me what I’ve been up to in the last couple of years and I couldn’t really explain it. And now I have that there. It’s like my diary.
I know this is going to be a hard one. What were the best things you tasted?
Probably a little highlight was the lumpfish roe and grapefruit granitée at Relae in Copenhagen, which was in the book. It was one of my most favorite things I ate. It was incredible.
What did you learn about the restaurant industry while working on this project?
I’d known this is hard work, but I really learned how hard it was, and how many hours you put into it. It was so many people working together to have all these things happen all at once at the right time. Timing is so important and having it come to your table in perfect, perfect condition.
What are your plans for Thanksgiving?
Just to be with family. One thing I’m very excited about is my fiancé aunt is a very good cook and she’s making corn soufflé, but not the French soufflé, like a Midwestern soufflé, which is like sticks of butter and cheese and corn and potatoes. It’s delicious.
You’ve shot people’s homes, workplaces, and restaurants — what’s next?
It’s a secret of course.
When will we start seeing that pop up on your website?
That’s a secret too.
Click on the slideshow to see images from “Edible Selby,” $35 at abrams.com.
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