Los Angeles-based photographer Rebecca Peloquin was a visual artist for over a decade before transitioning to a specialty in food and beverage photography. In her latest project, titled “Dramatic Produce,” Rebecca approaches food ingredients as fine art subjects, capturing stark but alluring images that showcase fruits, vegetables, and herbs in an almost painterly fashion.
I’m the type who can’t leave the supermarket without the weird-looking melon I’ve never heard of or the regional vegetable I have to google how to cook. So, I wanted to celebrate some of the beauty of these overlooked ingredients and the simple pleasures of common comforts.
Rebecca’s still-life images are simple but dynamic. The subject is set against a dark backdrop, which allows the color and details of the fruit or vegetable to be the focal point of the images. The lighting is as sharp and dramatic as the produce, further reinforcing the hard lines and textures unique to each varietal.
I remove all the distractions that might compete with the food subject and isolate it on a black fabric background, so just the texture and color of the subject shines. Some of the produce I capture is super fresh, and some of it seems more intriguing after it was forgotten for a while.
The uncomplicated setup and focus on the subject matter allowed Rebecca to explore new flavors and add fresh ingredients to the collection. In a way, it seems like a never-ending project as there is so much variety of produce out in the world, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it a challenge to find new subjects due to the limitations of in-person shopping and restrictions on travel. However, this seemingly sparked an exciting shift to focusing on unique regional ingredients.
The biggest challenge at this point is finding new ingredients to photograph. I’ve been trying to find the balance between things we’ve seen a thousand times before in Southern California and things that are more regional finds. Common is all relative! The fun part of this is just the act of “looking and finding,” so I hope things continue to get safer so more new “finds” can happen!
When selecting the fruit and vegetables to photograph, Rebecca lets the subject’s color and texture jump out at her first. Then, she decides whether she can use it for the project and whether she can eat or prepare it in some way to avoid creating additional waste.
I snag whatever seems interesting to me at the moment. Sometimes it’s an item with a lot of visual interest, sometimes it’s a very basic-looking strawberry from a not super special supermarket, or sometimes it’s a pepper that got left a little too long.
Rebecca advocates for reducing food waste, so it’s important to her that everything she photographs is enjoyed, reused, or composted to avoid creating additional waste that will end up in a landfill. On occasion, an intriguing color or look doesn’t align with the flavor you hope for, but that’s part of the fun of trying new things.
As I started shooting this project, it was just obvious I needed a dragon fruit because they have such cool color and shape, but it’s the most boring tasting fruit! I swear I’ve only ever gotten one that had any real taste to it! I pride myself on keeping food waste down in my personal and professional life, so I do not buy food just to shoot it and toss it.
The dragon fruit wasn’t the only fruit Rebecca sought out specifically due to its visually exciting exterior. She also looked out for bitter melon in Southern California, seeking it out in Asian grocery stores for its spiky, green texture. Bitter melon is a wrinkly looking-gourd that comes in many different varieties and is used in Chinese and Southeast Asian cooking.
I wasn’t sure I would be excited about the taste, and again, I don’t want to waste anything, so I found a great-sounding Chinese bitter melon and eggs recipe and gave it a go. Let me just say its name is not a lie! These guys are incredibly bitter and are an acquired taste for sure. Next time I give one a try, I hope it’s prepared by a better cook than me!
In Rebecca’s images, each fruit and vegetable depicted gets its spot in the limelight, whether the taste matches the expectation or not. The stark contrasts highlight not only the unique colors, textures, and shapes but also wrinkles and imperfections in the fruit. Rebecca’s photographs showcase the natural beauty of fruit and vegetables that give sustenance to the world, whether it’s dead leaves on a garlic web, some browning on a banana, or new root growth on a sweet potato. Her beautiful depictions of each manage to elevate even the most mundane subjects.
I think this project is almost a cool unlearning. In my professional work, I keep moving into more and more elaborate setups and scenes. It is nice just to slow down and take a good look at the ingredients used.
Photographer: Rebecca Peloquin