Jody Horton is an Austin-based photographer specializing in food and lifestyle imagery. Below Jody discusses his three new photo-rich cookbooks & answers a few questions about the process.
Book 1: Afield
Afield (written by the head chef of Austin-based Dai Due, Jesse Griffiths) came together slowly and was a pretty drawn out project. We worked on it for about a year before we even tried to sell the concept to anyone. Embracing the principles of the local sustainable food movement, a growing number of people are returning to hunting and preparing fish and game for their home tables. Afield is at once a manifesto for this movement and a practical manual packed with everything the modern home cook and hunter needs to know.
The field photos were taken over the course of two years – working in a trip when we could.
Photographing hunting is of course tricky, because some times you go and just sit in a blind and wait and nothing happens, and then you feel like you have accomplished nothing. But then there were days that were impossibly lucky- like when Jesse shot two turkeys and a deer in the space of maybe 10 minutes.
Another favorite shoot was on our trip to the Texas coast. We arrived at the beach after sunset (you can drive onto the beach in TX so this is what we did). The sun had already set maybe 10 minutes before and we had only minutes to get the series of shots. Jesse caught 3 or 4 whiting in the surf and I frantically dug a sand pit and made a great fire, building a wind break wall from sand to shield it from a hard wind from the ocean. We were barely able to get what we needed shooting wide open in fading light. It was pretty euphoric to pull it off and the beer and grilled whiting with carrot top sauce was one of the most delicious and memorable meals of the whole project.
We really took on everything ourselves – from the structure of the book to the art direction of the recipe photos. We wanted everything to feel as natural as possible. We decided to work with Welcome because they promised us a lot of creative control.
This is such a useful book – for experienced and first-time hunters alike- and we’re really proud of that.
Book 2: Charlie Palmer’s Camp Cooking
My second project with Welcome was a collaboration between myself and stylist Kate LeSueur – Charlie Palmer’s Camp Cooking, sponsored by Remington. Kate and I had worked on a few books for Chronicle and on several editorial projects together and got into a good rhythm with this book.
We shot everything in Austin over the course of a few weeks and developed the style and feel ourselves. Welcome was really happy wit the recipe work from Afield so they were happy for us to work and approach the material as we liked for the most part. It was really great having that freedom and I was glad they had that confidence in us.
Book 3: Smoke
A third project with Tim Byres of Smoke in Dallas was finally wrapped up this week after production that started in February. Like Afield, this became a labor of love project and we put in far more days than expected. Tim was great to work with and this was a lot of fun. My friend and stylist Johanna Lowe came down from Chicago to help with the first set of recipe shoots and Kate and I worked on the rest of the production – grouped in shoots of a day or two that included one of the “Feasts” featured in the book – a pig roast, crawfish boil, Tejano Barbacoa and a campfire cooking section.
My favorite moment from this project was during the last day of the first shoot. We had a fire going in the back of the restaurant and had done a few photos of oysters before the light faded. We decided to roast a few on the grill and wound up sitting around drinking whiskey and roasting maybe a bushel of oysters. They were a cultivated variety from Alabama that were surprisingly salty and some of the best I had from anywhere all season. People from the restaurant – they could see us having a great time out on the patio – kept coming out to see what we were doing and we would serve them an oyster or two. Word spread fast so we drew a steady stream of adventurous eaters. It was a lot of fun.
I like cookbook work a lot so hope to do more. Its great to concentrate on a more long-term project along with shorter-term ad work and editorial jobs.
Q & A
Do you have any tips for photographers who are starting out on a book project?
The subject should be something you love doing. Try to hold on to your rights to the images. Many contracts are exclusive forever terms, but these can often be negotiated.
Can you tell us a little about the submission process?
I’m not sure what is typical. In our case we had already done enough work to show what kind of feel we were looking for. We also had the structure for the book mapped out, a sample chapter written, and some sample recipes. I think this was a big help, both in describing the project to publishers and in helping us to think through what we wanted for the book.
How was working with the art director, and the rest of the publisher’s team?
For both Welcome projects we worked independently. They have not done many photo-heavy books so we had a lot of freedom, which was great. For Afield this was a collaboration between Jesse and I mostly, but stylist Johanna Lowe helped during our principle recipe shoot, and was totally awesome. We also had Kara Kroeger and Morgan Angelone in the kitchen with Jesse and they were both incredible. We were all out at a beautiful ranch in Fredericksburg, TX for 5 days around New Years and worked super long hours to pack everything in but had a lot of fun.
Did you face any specific challenges with a book format?
We had some trouble conceptually for the cover. There was a sense that it had to include game and fish. That was the only shot that they weighed in on and there were a lot if voices including the sales team for Random House (Welcome is an imprint of RH). Eventually we worked it out and got something we were happy with, but it was a long process and definitely a challenge.
Would you ever self-publish?
I’m not inclined to, but wouldn’t rule it out completely. I like the idea of having more control, but I think that the production is a lot to take on without having help with design and distribution. It would be hard to have time for all of that and to do it well.