Introducing Ami Kang-Thornton, Food Photographer
Food and photography were naturally a part of my life as I grew up in the States with an emotionally reserved Korean father that expressed all that needed to be said through cooking beautiful and often strange Korean-American concoctions for my sisters and me. And being a shy and pensive introvert as a kid and through my early teens (my later teenage years I transformed into something a bit wilder, though the introvert always laid dormant!), I found it so much easier to hold still to a moment and drink it in and what better tool to capture these moments than with a camera?
I clung to my silly pinhole Holgas and 35mm Canon film camera and shot pretty things as any young girl would…
and continued to do so through university at the University of the Arts – London College of Communication. I later found these two paths – food and photography – merge professionally when I started working for Square Meal Restaurants and Bars Guide where I reviewed restaurants, interviewed chefs and took photos for editorial features. Nowadays you’ll find me freelancing in Brighton and trying to set up as a photographer as my main deal – I’m mostly experienced in food and portraiture.
What are the most important factors for you when setting up that perfect food shot?
For me it is all about the light. I love the nuances that natural light lends to a shot, and I love the restriction it also has – it can often be a lot more powerful than an artificially lit studio shot however I love being in the studio too as I can really quietly immerse myself in the shoot. Also Annie Leibovitz comes to mind- she creates very bold, deeply stylized shots with artificial light which I love. I also like room for spontaneity.
What type of equipment is necessary for food photography and how does this differ to other types of photography?
It changes depending on the environment and time of day and obviously whether or not it is in a studio setting. But I like to work with minimal equipment. A good macro or fast lens, tripod. Maybe a simple lighting kit and light tent.
Who are your photography inspirations and do you have links to their work?
There are so many talented photographers out there as I feel photography has become quite accessible since it has become digital and then there’s Instagram – you’d be amazed at the quality of some images even when they’ve only been taken on a phone camera, which is both inspirational and daunting. So it’s hard to narrow it down, really.
But I love the still tranquility of Rinko Kawauchi…I find her work quite comforting and sometimes try to mimic her ability to capture the everyday or mundane things with a sense of poetry. She says a lot with very little.
For commercial food photography, I admire the relationship between photographer Jason Lowe and restaurateur Mark Hix. As I mentioned before, there are so many great photographers out there so it’s great to see a sense of loyalty and the ability to just take the time to understand one another so you can get the very best from each other for whatever image you’re trying to create. They are the dream team.
I recently discovered Ariko Inaoka who shot Icelandic twins for 5 years every summer. The series is dreamy and ethereal.
Who have you worked with in Brighton or Sussex?
I’m still relatively new to the area, to be honest so haven’t really worked with anyone as of yet but pretty keen to. I have shot a few things in London however for both Square Meal and Imbibe magazines as well as doing lots of portraits for various people. But honestly it’s actually really my first time being very serious about becoming a freelance photographer. I’ve mostly spent my time eating and writing.
Which is your favourite restaurant in Brighton, Hove or Sussex and why?
It changes often as I’m constantly discovering new gems but I’m always a sucker for a hearty bowl of tonkatsu ramen so Goemon Ramen Bar is a constant in my book. Recently I’ve been to the unapologetically French eatery Mange Tout with my collie-shaped shadow – yes, they are dog-friendly! – and fell in love with the sweet and giggly waitresses who cooed over my pup but most importantly, the beautifully fresh and simple Gallic grub. An excellent brunch spot.
What has inspired you to become a food photographer– or how did it the opportunity come about?
I left sunny Los Angeles for London for university (I went to University of the Arts – LCC) and started fact-checking for Square Meal Guide and Lifestyle magazine. I mentioned that I had studied photography and it all went from there.
What do you think of the Brighton and Hove restaurant/ dining scene at the moment?
I think food has become incredibly sexy in Britain as a whole – just look at the amount of food-related shows on TV! But Brighton is especially exciting to me as I feel there is a deeper sense of responsibility when it comes to how we choose to eat, whether it be for health or ethical/environmental reasons. Brighton is so much more chilled out, too. I love the fact that you can ALWAYS find a veggie option, a cheap and cheerful cafe or good cup of coffee on just about any street. There are also more inventive, modernist restaurants like 64 Degrees as well as brilliant pubs for the always appreciated Sundayroast with the kids and dogs.
I think Brighton has tons of choice and will only get better.