Q&A with the 2014 Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year

November 3rd, 2014

Zenfolio is delighted to be a partner of the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year, the world’s leading food award celebrating the art and diversity of food photography. Tessa Bunney of the UK and Lao PDR was announced as Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2014 earlier this year for her image “Noodle Making” from her series “Home Work.” The series explored “craft” villages in the suburbs and villages in and around Hanoi, Vietnam. We asked Tessa all about her photography.

1. How did you get started in photography?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t take photographs. When I was a child with a Kodak Instamatic on family holidays and as a teenager I would explore the village and the surrounding areas where I lived in Somerset on my bike taking pictures in the countryside and the nearby seaside in Weston-super-Mare. After I left school I did a photography foundation course at Filton Technical College in Bristol, followed by a degree in photography at West Surrey College of Art and Design in Farnham.

2. Tell us about your photography business

I am a British freelance documentary photographer, but at the moment I am currently based in Vientiane, Lao PDR, where I am working on my long-term project ‘The Corridor of Opportunity,’ which is funded by Arts Council England and undertaking editorial work and commissions for NGOs throughout the Southeast Asia region. I focus on photographing farmers and small food producers, but I’ve also recently become interested in textiles. 

3. What got you interested in food photography?

I became interested in food photography through my interest in different landscapes and the way they are shaped by human activity. In the UK I am based in the North York Moors and spent many years working with small food producers and hill farmers around where I live, documenting their lives, work and connection with the landscape. Since then I have collaborated with Icelandic puffin hunters, Romanian nomadic shepherds and Sami reindeer herders in Finland. Currently I am interested in the changes taking place as Laos moves from a subsistence economy to a market-driven one and the consequences for the subsistence farmers in remote mountainous regions.

4. Tell us the story of your winning photo 

The photograph is of a noodle maker in Huu Tu village from the series ‘Home Work’ which explores ‘craft’ villages in the suburbs and villages in and around Hanoi, Vietnam. These specialise in a single product or activity, anything from palm leaf hats to incense sticks, or from noodle making to snake catching. Some of these ‘craft’ villages date back hundreds of years; while others are a more recent response to enable rural farmers to earn much needed extra income. ‘Home Work’ looks at the lives of women homeworkers, urbanisation and the consequences of industrial development in villages such as Huu Tu.

5. What is the no. 1 piece of advice you could give to food photographers?

If you are genuinely interested in the subject you are photographing and you are willing to spend time, to wait for the light and the right moment—that will be reflected in your images. I happened to be living in Vietnam at the time, but there are interesting and exciting food-related things happening on everyone’s street corner and in everyone’s home.

6. What else do you shoot?

Photographing farmers and small food producers is one my major preoccupations; however, I am also interested in textiles and have been working on a story about hemp production in remote Hmong ethnic minority villages in Laos, which will published editorially next year. In Laos I have also worked on a series about a women’s UXO clearance team working for the Mines Advisory Group, ‘The Women of UCT6,’ which was published in Financial Times Magazine.

In recent years I have also worked on several swimming-related series—Finnish ice swimmers, tidal pools in the southwest of England and the Serpentine Swimming Club in London.

7. How has the win changed your business?

It was a very welcoming confidence boost to encourage me to keep on going with my long-term projects and to tell the stories of small food producers and farmers around the world. It has been wonderful seeing the coverage of the Noodle picture across the world reproduced so many times.

8. What is your favorite part about food photography?

Aside from the actual photography, which I love, the best part is having the opportunity to meet food producers who are passionate about their way of life and their products, and of course being able to sample their food is a major perk of the job! Ian Spink’s Arbroath smokies were possibly the best thing I ever tasted, and that was while working on an assignment for Gourmet magazine in Scotland.

Do you have what it takes to be next year’s winner? Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year is now open for entries and closes on Sunday, 8 February 2015.