How to Build a New Dishware Collection, Part I

Boy Scout knife - Clarke Conde - Pyragraph

This is part one of a three-part series on Albuquerque food photographer Clarke Condé’s New Dish Project. You can find part two here and part three here.

April 30, 2015

Having arrived in New Mexico, camera in hand, on the train like a refugee from America’s frozen north coast of New York, I have an interesting problem: I have no dishes. I have no plates. No flatware. No pans. No cups. No glasses. No nothing. Zero. The shelves that hold a collection built over years are 2,000 miles away.

It is a unique position to be in as an adult, but moreover, as a food photographer. To begin to build a new collection of dishes that complement the food and add something to the aesthetics of a food photograph is the challenge. So here is the plan:

For the next 30 days, acquire a new piece every day, shoot some food on it (preferably in my beautiful new outdoor shooting space in Old Town Albuquerque), and see what kind of collection I have by the end of the month. That said, on the 30th day, I’m probably just going to steal a dish from Lindsay Steinberg’s wedding.

But before I begin, let me offer as a prelude today this photo of the item that is always at hand in my camera bag and has saved many an impromptu picnic.

Be Prepared.

Item One: The Ball Jar

Ball jar banana split - Clarke Conde - Pyragraph

May 1, 2015

The first piece is classic. Given to me by a friend with a candle in it, it has been cleaned and repurposed for the Ball Jar Banana Split and photographed right here in Old Town Albuquerque.

Item Two: The Lowball Glass

Lowball glass - Clarke Conde - Pyragraph

May 2, 2015

For a quarter from the estate sale down the street comes my new lowball glass. With its heavy base, two fingers of Protestant whiskey, and the year and initials that lends itself to a fictional story, it is the perfect addition to the studio’s now two-item collection.

Item Three: The Noodle Bowl

Noodle bowl - Clarke Conde - Pyragraph

May 3, 2015

On the stretch of Central Avenue between Albuquerque’s Old Town and New, I found tucked on a low shelf of St. Joseph’s Thrift Store this simple noodle bowl. Noodles with miso, bok choy and seaweed fitted into the bowl and photographed under the New Mexican sun on a stuccoed wall right by the photography studio. It is a classic, low-key bowl, that will accent a variety of foods.

Item Four: Chopsticks

Chopsticks - Clarke Conde - Pyragraph

May 4, 2015

At the cost of $1.39 for a pack of ten from the grocery store in Albuquerque’s Wells Park neighborhood, it is hard to find a more versatile reusable utensil in a food photographer’s bag for the buck than the bamboo chopstick. For propping, stirring, poking, moving and occasionally even eating with, they are almost as valuable as a roll of paper towels in the studio. Today, they are paired with a red chile-dusted fried egg I got from a local chicken I know.

Item Five: The Black Plate

Black plate - Clarke Conde - Pyragraph

May 5, 2015

Just a short 15-mile bike ride northeast of Albuquerque is the Goodwill store on Paseo del Norte, where I found this black plate for $1.99. What has become a staple for food photographers, the black plate frames colorful food, like this guacamole with red chile, green onion and corn tostadas, beautifully. Shot on a bench in Old Town one block from the studio, the black plate is a welcome and necessary addition to the food photography collection here in New Mexico.

Item Six: The Coupe Glass

Coupe glass - Clarke Conde - Pyragraph

May 6, 2015

Sprung from the fabled history of Ancien Régime France, the Coupe Glass made it though the revolution, though its shape model famously did not. The Coupe is a staple for beverage photographers. Sadly, I recently heard a revolting story of the specific demise of the coupe glasses I left in New York, but fortunately I found a new set for 99 cents here in New Mexico. C’est la vie. Vodka, tonic and thick slice of orange photographed in the plaza in Old Town Albuquerque.

Item Seven: The Small White Plate

Red chile chocolate - Clarke Conde - Pyragraph

May 7, 2015

For simplicity, it is hard to beat the small white plate. Had for 25 cents at the thrift store down the street, the low-rise rim and the tea-cup scale provide the perfect separation for small food photography where the wrapped product needs to also be in the shot. However, this is a special case where the product (the Los Muertos Eternal Fiesta Dark Red & Green Chile Bar) is part of a fundraiser for my friends over at the Red Wagon Urban Farm here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’m excited to see this new farm get thing rolling with some seed money and ready to jump in with a new documentary project on Instagram, REDWAGONURBANFARM, Check it out!

Item Eight: The Rooster Glass

Rooster Glass - Clarke Conde - Pyragraph

May 8, 2015

While not something I would normally stock the studio with, the Rooster Glass was given to me last night at the Red Wagon Urban Farm fundraiser by my friend Persephone who has been following my New Dish Project and bought it especially for my collection. Thank you, Persephone! It is a welcome addition, shot today with a strawberry yogurt parfait here in Old Town Albuquerque New Mexico, where people are starting to notice that some guy keeps walking around the plaza photographing food in various locations.

Item Nine: The Black-Rimmed Dinner Plate

Strawberry layer cake - Clarke Conde - Pyragraph

May 9, 2015

The black rimmed dinner plate acts like a proper black frame and white matte for a food photograph. Given to me by Peri (thank you, Peri!) last night in a flourish of activity that emptied damn near every dish (with accompanying provenance) from the cabinets of her Albuquerque home. I tried a variety of items on the plate and every one looked great, in part, because the plate provides a border between the food and the background. The best, though, was definitely Mary’s version of the Martha Stewart Strawberry Layer Cake, adapted with apricot jam and served at her son’s fifth birthday today. Happy Birthday, Trudell!

Item Ten: The Black Bowl

Grilled drumstick - Clarke Conde - Pyragraph

May 10, 2015

Scratched enough to show texture, though not so much as to be distracting, I found this black bowl at the Goodwill for $2.00. The key with using black dishes in food photographs is to manage the void; not let it consume the photo. Sometimes you want a range of shades reflecting the lighting and contrasting the food. This slightly over-grilled drumstick is a perfect example of the way texture can be reflected with black. Shot right here in a shady spot in Albuquerque, New Mexico and eaten promptly after.

All photos by Clarke Condé.

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