Luke Copping, a conceptual photographer based in Buffalo, New York, has always been drawn to the idea of making a mess with his work. For him, photography is more than just a technical exercise; it’s about releasing his subjects from the idea of neatness and rigidity. In the midst of the pandemic, Luke worked on a fun and messy self-assigned project entitled “The Messy Food Series”.
I was looking for a project that required minimal crew and could be accomplished with minimal pre-production and styling.
After reading several articles on foods you should never eat while wearing white, Luke came up with the idea for “The Messy Food Series.” He immediately imagined covering his subjects in the foods listed in the article and envisioned a fun and vibrant photoshoot.
I have a history of “making a mess” during shoots. I’ve covered subjects in mushrooms, flour, paint, and much more, so a little bit of messy food was nothing. There’s something about a mess that is freeing.
Luke used his experience as a food stylist to brainstorm ideas for the project. He drew up concepts for the foods he was interested in, as well as the subjects and compositions he wanted. Ultimately, he decided to have his subjects wear white clothing in front of a white background — covered in the foods they were eating.
I went through a few iterations of lighting during a test shoot before settling on this final overall theme of the project.
“The Messy Food Series” was shot at Luke’s studio in Buffalo, New York where he invited his friends, models, food bloggers, and even his own children to participate. In the beginning, Luke’s subjects had a hard time letting go and getting in the right mood for the shoot. A shoot like this requires a person to let their guard down and go with the flow. Luke had to find the balance between fun and being over the top, ensuring the images weren’t too cartoony or over-exaggerated.
I think some people have been told not to play with their food too many times. This concept is a little over the top, and there’s really no way you’re going to look elegant or cool when you are totally covered in Barbecue sauce.
Luke used this project as a way to have fun. In the months prior to the pandemic and during lockdown, he worked on several serious projects and began experiencing a creative block. As a way to find balance, he chose something that was fun and lighthearted, while still being in line with his previous work about food.
I work with a lot of farmers, purveyors, and chefs in my editorial work and really enjoy photographing that world. So this felt natural.
Luke learned that blueberries and cherries don’t play well with white surfaces or clothing — they stained everything on the set. He also learned that everything doesn’t have to be serious all the time. When Luke started photography it was fun, and years later he still wants it to be fun.
Luke was pleased to discover that the portrait of his daughter Viviene eating spaghetti had been selected to be a part of the American Photographer 38 – a prestigious award he’s proud to see his daughter included in.
Projects like this are a release for me and a reminder that a photographer can be anything – from sad to silly, from deadly serious to light-hearted.
See more of Luke’s images on his Instagram.
See more of our photographers’ projects on our Unpublished page.