JEAN CAZALS shoots with Pierre Gagnaire

Featuring Forthcoming Book 'SKETCH'

Photography by Jean Cazals

The first thing you notice are his hands. In a dynamic series of portraits, the three Michelin star chef Pierre Gagnaire comes alive on the page. Those hands, you think, can create anything: "He is constantly moving", says photographer Jean Cazals. "He thinks all the time. And with Pierre - there are no rules."

When Gagnaire decided to do a book to showcase the kind of surrealist dishes which amaze diners at his restaurant Sketch, he turned immediately to Cazals. It was to be a work of pure surrealism: nothing would be as it seemed.

It took a leap of imagination to even know where to start. "He's so spontaneous, there are no boundaries. It's purely his vision: expect the unexpected."

In the Daliesque chamber of the Lecture Room at Sketch, Cazals let his imagination go wild. "Photography is not just taking pictures of things. My education, my knowledge, my expertise all has to come into it."

A lampstand, minus the lamp, cradles a glass instead, a cocktail glowing luminously within. Other shots happen almost by accident: some delicately balanced glassware slips, and as one glass tumbles foward, Cazals shoots a volley of frames: one is off-kilter perfect.

Why shoot a dish on a plate when you can use the floor? Or the back of a chair, which plays mind games with perspective? Another dish is composed inside a record shaped like a bowl, bought years ago, and saved for just such a moment.

One of the most arresting images is a pair of mackerel, their metallic scales perfectly matched by the patterned fabric on a chair.

A swiss roll becomes another model of surrealism, the chocolate sponge draped Dali-like, dark and foreboding: "It's like poetry in motion".

For other recipes, Cazals decides not to photograph the finished dish, but the ingredients. Vegetables are hermetically sealed in a vacuum pack. A cuttlefish sits alongside a kitchen knife, echoing its verdigris colour and elegant shape. Some images of specially designed plates play with ideas of boundaries and space: drawings flow from crockery to table: there is a knife, but instead of a fork, a paint brush. A trip to a nearby toy shop ended up with a plastic cow to accessorise a sweetbread. Disturbingly surreal.

For this book, with his total freedom to invent, Cazals has had to channel a chef who defies description; a chef who might suddenly decide to change dishes two or three times between pass and table.

"It is ordered chaos with Gagnaire. I know how he thinks."

For the portrait, Cazals simply set up his camera and began to talk. "I was clicking, clicking, just one or two seconds between shots. In the end I had to use four because they all said so much - you can see it in his hands. He's a one off."

The secret of good photography, says Cazals, is like a recipe - a compilation of the chef, the background, the ingredients, the design. "Just let it be." And in the anarchic, upside down world of Gagnaire's inspired cuisine, there can be no more fitting interpretation than that.

Written by Felicity Spector

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