French Photographer Maxime Gautier Talks about his Work in the Kitchen—and on Pillows
“Me, I’m a little crazy,” says the photographer Maxime Gautier. “I’m on the floor. I’m diving and jumping over things. I’m part of the brigade.”
He’s not talking about war photography, but rather his work between the burners, capturing the lives of chefs on the job for an on-going project he calls “Kitchen Stories.” The Bordeaux-based Gautier has so far photographed over 30 chefs at work—and, sometimes, at play—on his quest to visit 80 chefs in kitchens all over the world, from Ibiza to Essaouira, from LA to Tokyo to London. When finished, the photographer plans to compile the images and stories into a thick coffee-table book, the narrative wrapped around the human condition rather than chefs as celebrities.
“I want to go inside the chefs,” says Gautier, whose voice practically leaps with passion as he arrays his plans. “They could be quiet, they could be loud, they could be pretentious—I don’t care. The point of the book is not to meet the biggest chefs in the world, but to meet chefs with real personality, the chefs of today cooking for tomorrow, and share who they are.”
Driving Gautier, to a degree, is a spoken boredom with over-produced portraits of chefs in the same old poses—arms folded, frown stoic, toque well-starched—but more important is his background. Gautier once plied the long, hot hours of the culinary trade. Before becoming a photographer, long before working on the photo desk at Paris Match, he was a line cook, an aspiring professional. “I understand chefs, because I used to be one,” he says, explaining how he left school at 18 to work in a London kitchen, and later, after falling in love with Italian cuisine, moved to Rome to do the same.
In March of 2015, on a friend’s recommendation, Gautier first came to Bangkok to continue his project on a new continent. Over 10 days, he left a trail of fire across the city, shooting its most prodigious culinary icons at work—Ian Kittichai at Issaya Siamese Club, Nooror Somany-Steppe at Blue Elephant, Ton Tassanakajohn at Le Du, Zra Jirarath at Aston, Luca Appino at the Pizza Massilia food truck, and Julien Lavigne at Oskar. Each strikes poses evocative of their deeper emotions, such as the cool Chef Zra hidden behind sunglasses, or the demure Chef Nooror extending a tray of fire-red chillies.
Speaking to his irrepressible energy, the photographer often did two photo shoots in the same day. In between, he captured street vendors going about their daily business across the city, an integral part of the project validating the connection between white and blue collar cooks.
“A head chef, a new chef, or a boy with little experience is all the same in the end,” Gautier explains. He then goes on to mention how his dream is to travel into the African bush to talk to tribal groups as they prepare meals, and to go to Alaska to speak with ice fishermen. Ultimately, his aim is to show viewers who these people are in one picture. In scanning Gautier’s portfolio, it becomes clear that this has always been his approach. In many of the images separate from “Kitchen Stories,” the eyes of the person in focus are emotive, or piercing, as if wedging between the viewers’s ribs like a carving knife. This stands in stark contrast to “Kitchen Stories,” in which bodily poses tell the story, and the attendant emotions skew toward the bathetic and light-hearted.
Abetted by an apparently insatiable hunger to create, Gautier’s acumen for storytelling in non-traditional ways has also led him outside the narrow confines of the kitchen, where he has combined shutter and lens with needle and thread. Gautier and an old friend of his from Bordeaux, Jean-Vincent Vallette, have started the ARTPILO project, which was on display at YenakArt Villas until late January. The duo place photographs and paintings on pillows of varying sizes (all made in France) encouraging viewers to take them off the walls, touch them, experience art with their own hands. “You can cry on cushions, you can sleep on cushions, you can make love on cushions—you can do everything with a cushion. And it’s probably the first time in the world you can find cushions in an art gallery,” says Gautier with a laugh. Other artists—painters, photographers, graphic designers—are set to create their own series in the near future, building on the success that Vallente and Gautier have achieved (following its display in Bangkok, ARTPILO appeared at Maison & Objet in Paris).
For the initial launch, Gautier provided close-up shots of animals, including an intimate shot of a camel he took while touring Morocco. Other pillows feature Warholian photos of flowers taken by the photographer. Each pillow is distinguished by the tell-tale poses in which the photographer usually captures his human subjects—a chicken with one bare leg extended like a sassy swimsuit model, a meerkat staring down the viewer with a crocodile grin, a downright ascetic toucan. “[All these] animals have stories, too. We are all the same,” says Gautier, adding, “I look a lot. I’m not a liar. You know, I listen.”
Listening to Gautier, it’s clear to see how his hunger is taking his art to new and greater places. Soon, he hopes, those places will include the US, South America, and across Europe, where he can continue his “Kitchen Stories,” tying the tether of human emotion from hemispheres east to west.
To contact Maxime Gautier and learn more about his work—and to see a greater selection of shots from his portfolio, including a selection of “Kitchen Stories” from around the world—visit maximegautier.com or e-mail [email protected].
BY John Krich