Justin Paris Deconstructs Tastes and Textures

Jun 14, 2019
Photographer Spotlight

Every good chef will tell you something surprising: Before smell or taste can arouse your appetite, you eat with your eyes first.

This is why presentation is such an important part of preparation in the culinary world: the more visually appealing a dish is, the more appetizing it becomes. 

Justin Paris, a Chicago-based conceptual food photographer, took this idea a step further by focusing on the ingredients and processes that go into creating our favorite meals. 

Recently, Justin undertook two projects which explore raw ingredients in different ways. “Flavor Story” juxtaposes ingredients prior to the process that transforms them into a single dish.  

Justin Paris combines jalapeno with cheddar

 “Transitions” suspends the time that transforms an ingredient into its more familiar, edible form.

Justin simulates how an avocado becomes guacamole

A key difference between Flavor Story and Transitions is that the latter is more of a personal project, one that speaks to Justin’s compulsion towards cooking. Viewing his work, it’s clear that Justin has an intimate connection with food preparation. 

Food is about process and there is a general disconnect from raw ingredient to edible forms. This project was designed as a simple and graphic dialogue about how humans transform ingredients into cuisine.

This was personal in the sense that I felt compelled to create them but wasn't sure who it would resonate with. In the end it's about concepting and visual storytelling. If you are interested in those things you are probably the audience.

Growing up, Justin dreamed of being a chef. He spent much of his childhood in the kitchen and continues to explore that space in what he calls “a never-ending quest for food knowledge.” Justin’s mix of expertise and curiosity shines through in his work, and his vision for both Flavor Story and Transitions is clear and concise. 

Tomato basil and parmesan never looked so good

In speaking with Justin about Flavor Story, one word keeps coming up: texture. That, he says, is what makes this project unique. 

For the most part I used flavor combinations that are common on store shelves, ingredients that we have captured plenty of times in the past. From there it became about texture and details. There is so much flavor in texture, that's where it's all hiding. 

Justin brings raspberry and vanilla together

As with Flavor Story, the radiant, effervescent colors of the ingredients in Transitions stick in the mind, but what makes the latter project so memorable is the way it uses lighting to showcase the food. The harmony between these two aspects allows the viewer to focus on how everything comes together to create a final product.  The images are, as he puts it:

Bold, textural, a bit unexpected. But still easy to identify and connect as a flavor combination. Lighting had to be about revealing texture and delivering saturated color. And it had to be relevant and complimentary to the selected composition. It is so important that those work together or the image will fall short of impactful.

An egg becomes a meal

From the camera angle to the surface, to the styling, the goal was to focus on the action of the transition and not on any of those individual aspects. There were a number of ideas that had to be passed over because the complexity was too distracting. When I create imagery, I know that it needs to tell a story. Not always in the same way, but it’s key to have a strategy and to make decisions that support the end goal.

Both Transitions and Flavor Story are love letters to ingredients and food preparation. Flavor Story, in particular, has garnered praise for its visceral originality, but what Justin appreciates most about the feedback he’s received is that the audience understands what he’s trying to say. 

Chile limon never looked so good

There have been some "Wows" and some "I need to show this tos..." Everything has seemed to tie back to the intent and that is just awesome. With so much competing for our attention these days, anything that doesn't have visual stopping power is just lost at sea.

An almond drenched in honey

Justin hopes this project will find a specific audience that can apply these concepts to their future work. 

Art directors, brand managers, designers. Anyone working with food that is seeking a more impactful solution to showcasing flavor.



Food stylists: Breana Moeller, Jillian McCann

Check out more of Justin Paris at justinbparis.com!

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