food photography: the wonderful world of sprouts

I have been living and working as an English photographer in France for over 7 years and am no stranger to the phrase ‘lost in translation’. However, it struck me afresh at a recent photoshoot what a difference just four missing letters can make. My assignment was for a German book publisher who wanted a food photographer in the South of France to illustrate a rather special new recipe book. From the very first email, a key misunderstanding ensued.

Fresh beansprout and vegetable smoothies, photographed from above
Delicious sprout smoothies

benefits of sprouts grossly underestimated

‘Sprout’ to an English person generally means one thing; the undeniably British, green component of a Christmas dinner. Brussel sprouts offer pretty much the only source of vitamins during a festive meat-and-greasy-carbs splurge, and as such are often controversial (why would you want to eat something good for you at Christmas?).

Nonetheless, I was slightly puzzled when I was given the photographer’s brief. Hans, the book’s editor, claimed that the nutritional benefits of sprouts were widely underestimated. He said that sprouts could figure in up to 70% of our meals, explaining that the book’s author was a natural food specialist with a particular interest in this foodstuff. The recipe book would be more than just a recipe book – it would be a lifestyle changer, a call to action to finally give sprouts the attention they deserve.

I wondered briefly about the potentially disastrous side effects that a diet too heavy in sprouts could lead to, and how tricky it might be to find Brussel sprouts among the seasonal produce at a spring market on the French Riviera; but these were clearly not the concerns of the photographer. I had my own challenges, namely to come up with an idea of how shoot a cover portrait of the author that would involve plenty of sprouts in a creative and fun way. Would the author be able to juggle? Could making a tower of sprouts be a feasible ask of my assistant?

the penny drops

Close-up photograph of black oil sunflower seed sprouts
Black oil sunflower sprouts rise to the occasion
We started the shoot not long after dawn at the marché Provençal in Antibes. Greeting stallholders left and right with a winning smile, author Angelika effortlessly piled her baskets high with fresh produce. I noticed that sprouts were conspicuous by their absence on her shopping list, but assumed that, being the central element of the day, they must have already been sourced. By the time we arrived at the gleaming villa above Cannes whose kitchen we were to take over, Angelika’s car was actually listing under the weight of several tonnes of wholefood ingredients, dishes and outfit changes. As we unloaded though, I came to the perplexing realisation that while I could glimpse pretty much every kind of vegetable that I’d ever seen (and many that I hadn’t), there was, undeniably, not a single Brussel sprout anywhere to be seen.

The penny finally dropped when Angelika proudly showed me one of many small boxes containing what to an innocent bystander might have looked like grass. Having been raised by hippie wholefooders, I knew better. One word had been missing all along. Bean. A recipe book about the nutritional benefits of beansprouts. Juggling clearly wasn’t going to cut it.

a fine ambassador for (bean)sprouts

Angelika Fürstler is something of a one-off. Her email signature alone creates a certain impact: “International Underwater & Eco Lifestyle Model/Artist & Ambassador. Vegan Lifestyle Educator & Motivational Speaker. Creator of the BOUNCE-CAMP™ Holistic Fitness Lifestyle. Cote D’Azur, FRANCE ~ MONACO ~ AUSTRIA & the World“. AngelikA (as she signs it, with a spirit-lifting capital A at the end of her name) is as beautiful as she is energetic, simply oozing health and positive vibes. This all certainly makes her a good advertisement for the merits of beansprouts (and not someone, incidentally, who is likely to tuck into foie gras for her own Christmas dinner, where France, her adopted home, has its own controversial culinary traditions…).

In any case, any scepticism I might harbour about vegans’ energy levels crumbled to dust during our 10 hour marathon of food photography and portraits. Whenever my assistant Irina and I took a brief break from the action, Angelika joyfully threw countless varieties of beansprouts, seeds, vegetables, fruit, unidentifiable leaves, powder and I don’t know what else into a blender to give us a quick delicious pick-me-up juice, singing and bounding happily around the kitchen as we slumped down against a wall for a breather.

a mountain of vitamins – and, later, what I really wanted

Portrait of Angelika Fürstler at a table piled high with vegetables
I suspect Angelika has no difficulty getting her 5 daily portions of fruit and veg

Not long after our arrival, every visible surface in the kitchen had been hidden under mountains of food, or, more specifically, natural ingredients. There were no packets, tins or bottles anywhere in sight and no pastry items or bread either – I could find nothing apparently processed at all. It was quite a strange kitchen scene to survey, and so I decided that the cover portrait needed no more than a strategic re-arrangement of ingredients on the table. Beansprouts spilled over the foreground and Angelika posed happily on the stool in the midst of her vegetable world, the only clear space that I left in the photograph was the wall above her head, for the book’s title.

It was late by the time I finally made it home. I can’t say I wasn’t inspired by Angelika’s evangelical message of the merits of healthy-beansprout-living. But my dinner choice that night was a no-brainer. As the local pizzaiolo put another stamp on my customer card, and the smell of sizzling mozzarella and minced steak of my wood-fired pizza cannibale rose up to greet me, I felt an unusually strong surge of bien-être.

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6 Comments

  1. Gudrun W

    Hi Rebecca,
    Thank you for your refreshing insight into your photography work. I love the way how everything comes together at the end and now such a great outcome needs the open minded approach.
    Well done!

    Reply
  2. AngelikA Fürstler

    Dear Rebecca!
    It was a pleasure to work with u and I totally LOVE the cover we created for my book :))))
    My website http://www.angelikafurstler.com is currently in rebranding and getting a new touch and feel for all the greatness (holistic fitness lifestyle & plant-based living foods cuisine, shop, retreats &more). In the meantime you will find some more Infos about me on Facebook.com/Angelikafurstler and my vegan wonder world at http://www.vegansuperyacht.com my new business ;))
    Rebecca I totally love your style, perspective and wonderful, creative being u are and I am looking fwd to working with u again 😉
    Blessings and be well! Al(l)ways,
    BECAUSE WEALTH MEANS NOTHING WITHOUT HEALTH
    AngelikA Fürstler

    Reply
  3. AngelikA Fürstler

    Rebecca,
    this article just gives me a huuuuge smile on my face… what a great, funny and awesome time we had together… and thanks for teaching me proper engilsh and educating me on :)))) BEAN sprouts :)))))))
    Blessings Blessings Blessings!!!!
    And when my book is ready I invite you for another superfood bliss smoothie or anything else with bean sprouts… or wait…maybe we should have a brussels sprouts dish just for the fun of it :))) in any ways, looking fwd to seeing u again! :)))

    Reply
  4. Rebecca Marshall

    Thank you both for your comments.

    Angelika, I personally am in the camp that supports the Brussel sprout on the Christmas table, and am sad their reputation is relegated to this one day of the year. Perhaps I can propose you a challenge, to create a truly new dish – or smoothie – that finally puts the Brussel sprout in the culinary spotlight. Even if it perhaps doesn’t merit a whole book of recipes…..

    Reply
  5. Mark Stover

    Beautiful photography and great writing. I wholeheartedly enjoyed this story about this cover image photo-shoot. I read it as I was enjoying my lunch, which was (honestly!) a salad of mixed bean-sprouts, heirloom tomatoes and steamed kale – all from a local farmer’s market, here in Santa Cruz, California. With regard to brussels sprouts, they are grown in my area quite abundantly. I enjoy eating them from time to time, but do not consider them one of my favorite foods.

    I’d love to share an image from Instagram, showing a local field cultivated with brussels sprouts, if I may: http://instagram.com/p/RhTAjGN2l6/?modal=true

    Thanks for sharing your story here. AngelikA’s book sounds interesting!

    Reply
  6. Rebecca Marshall

    There’s a beautiful sprout field if ever I saw one, thanks for sharing it Mark, and for your feedback, direct from your beansprout luncheon.

    Reply

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