We recently caught up with Austin food & drink photographer, Jody Horton to chat about what brought him to the field, his approach to image making, and the narrative potential he sees within every dish.
Growing up, Jody initially wanted to become a writer, but that changed when he took his first photography class in college. While writing for his school newspaper, Jody used his pictures to supplement the travel/adventure articles he wrote. He continued to write and photograph after graduating, taking a position in Costa Rica for an Eco-Travel magazine. Jody slowly began to realize photography was the most interesting aspect of his experience there. He jokingly muses that because he “likes making things hard for himself” he continued to write for several more years.
Hoping to find an application for writing and photography that felt more meaningful, Jody headed to grad school to study Cultural Anthropology at the University of New Mexico.
While in school, Jody began to miss photography and magazine work, so he got involved with a local food magazine in Albuquerque that needed some help. Jody wrote and photographed a few articles for them, and eventually became the editor and co-owner of the publication. It was during this time that Jody decided it was okay to focus on photography even though he felt it was “too easy” in comparison to his previous endeavors.
This was my first food work and how I gained an appreciation for the inherent story structure food can contain – from harvest, to prep, to the final dish. I also really appreciated the passion and creativity people in that industry have for what they do.
Photographs showing the harvest & distilling process of Mezcal outside of Oaxaca for Garden & Gun.
This experience sparked Jody’s interest in food & drink photography, and his career took off. Part of what was intriguing for Jody was the relative freedom food & drink work afforded him.
Specializing in food & drink still allows me to shoot a wide range of subject matter. Oyster picking on the coast, a wild boar hunt, or photographing a market from a helicopter; all fall within the circle of food photography.
An excerpt of photographs from Smoke: New Firewood Cooking of Rizzoli.
Instead of simply describing food photographically, Jody also believes in the importance of showing the cultural and human interactions behind its production. Drawing from his Anthropologist roots, Jody likes to delve deep into his subjects, learning as much as possible through his interactions with the people involved. Learning and understanding are crucial to Jody’s practice, so before photographing he’ll often ask questions like:
What is interesting about X? What are the distinguishing characteristics of Y? What is your favorite part of Z? What do you do next and why?
After his initial research and understanding of a subject, Jody strives to translate the experience into a visual narrative using photography.
I often think of the story in cinematic terms and try to capture broad establishing shots, critical actions and fine details.
Using this cinematic and human approach to food photography, Jody recently completed a project documenting the world’s largest food market, Central de Abasto in Mexico City. Jody primarily focused on workers called Diableros, (food cart pushers) contrasting them with aerial pictures. This juxtaposition illustrates how important the Diableros are to the day-to-day operations of a such a massive market. As Jody himself puts it:
The guys that push those hand carts (called diablos or devils) along the long corridors delivering the produce between wholesalers and retailers are really the life blood of the market.
This project shows micro and macro perspectives of a thriving market and demonstrates how each part is integral to the functioning of the whole. If the Diableros are the life blood, then the corridors are the veins, and the food is the oxygen that allows the whole organism to flourish.
This nuanced and thoughtful approach to photography has yielded dividends for Jody – one only has to look at his eye-popping client list that includes Anheuser-Busch, Jack Daniels, Marriot, Whole Foods Niemen Marcus, Penguin Books, not to mention the countless publications. He’s also received numerous awards from the likes of Communication Arts, Photo District News, and the American Advertising Federation.
To see more of Jody’s photographs on his website check out: jodyhorton.com