One is a photographer, the other a stylist; but both of them got linked by an intense love for food. Kelsey McClellan and Michelle Maguire got here something fresh and fun – a monochromatic perception of food, style and clothing. All of that understood from different stances.
Michelle Maguire and Kelsey McClellan are full of irony, without cynicism though. Both native to Ohio, USA, they tend to bring pop, style and intense colours into food photography. When Michelle is not making a fascinating book about her aunt Dolly, turned into a Warholian figure in Salami Dreamin’, Kelsey is sublimating the most simple food item. Here is one of the funniest and intriguing shoots, made up from the collision of these two brilliant universes – and we are happy to have a chat with them, both at once.
We often say about beautiful things that simply by seeing them, it’s like touching them – with your eyes. Is it the same with food art?
Kelsey: I think visually yes, but it can also make you hungry, or make your mouth water, or make you feel gross because you once had a bad experience with a certain food. Adding appetite to something visual is always interesting.
You cannot work when you're hungry, right?
Kelsey: It's definitely better not to, just because I get hungry and am not as patient. The nice thing is you can usually eat what you just photographed when you are done – if it hasn't been man-handled too much.
Michelle: It’s a pretty rare occasion that I go hungry. One of the great things about working with food is that we photograph until we agree on the winning shot, and then we tear into that plate – taking a break to enjoy whatever’s just been wrapped, regroup, and discuss last-minute ideas for the shoot up next.
Kelsey, is there any food you captured so beautifully that you could not eat it anymore? 
Kelsey: I photographed ice cream for a living a few years ago. I ate so much of that towards the end of my time there I almost didn't see it as edible anymore – it was more like a substance that just melted. My camera and lenses smelled like dairy for a long time. So, yes!
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Michelle, how do you catch the aesthetic of your subject when it is a breaded fish?
The breaded cutie in this shoot is a McDonald’s filet-o’-fish, which requires very little from me to make it look good. I just let it be what it is – celebrating its perfect square body and precision edges, its companion bun and orange factory cheese – positioning its most attractive features within the frame for optimum appeal. When I was growing up, this fast-food item was served inside a Styrofoam container that was this beautiful 70s-prom tuxedo-blue. Everyone associates that color with the filet-o’-fish, and it’s the first thing that popped into my head when I found the blue suit at the thrift store. In an effort to modernize, McDonald’s got rid of that packaging years ago, so to incorporate that essential, recognizable blue, we wrapped the fish in tissue paper.
Is there one colour linked to one meal? For instance the after-school snack.
Kelsey: I think when you link meals to personal memories colors are strongly associated. I used to eat cereal every morning out of these plastic, blush pink bowls that my mom had so that color makes me think of breakfast.
What was your after-school snack?
Kelsey: I had a phase in middle school where I ate a huge bowl (like 5 scoops, no joke) of Breyer's chocolate ice cream with sliced banana and a can of sprite everyday as soon as I got home. Ice cream and I have a complicated past, I guess… I also ate a lot of clementines.
Michelle: The bus dumped me off at my grandma’s house and she always made me something great. A favorite was a ‘mini pizza’: marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese on an English muffin, baked to perfection in her toaster oven. That always hit the spot. Followed by a pizzelle.
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Is there any food item you will never accept to feature on a shoot?
Michelle: I don’t think so. Though I really enjoy working with foods that are typically considered to be not so photogenic. A loaf of bread that looks like a shoe, maybe. That’s fun.
Do you think using glossy pictures can make fast-food stylish?
Kelsey: I think a lot of chain fast food places have so heavily designed the food to look appetizing that the food in itself is already 'stylish'. It's also strange and a little disturbing (and sometimes delicious), so highlighting the absurdity of it is fun.
Michelle: I think I tend to prefer shots where the food looks a little lonely, or maybe even shy – it’s nice to focus not only on the food itself but also its placement within a larger setting. That relationship is interesting. And I find that to feel stylish. 
There is such peacefulness in this series – which food gives you peace of mind? 
Kelsey: I think the idea we put behind this series was that someone, somewhere, is stealing a moment to snack. All types of food can bring peace of mind at different times. Like when you are starving on a long drive and all you can get is a bag of chips at a gas station, or when you are hustlin' around town and just have time for the wafer you had in your purse. For me, rice gives me the most peace of mind. (If I were in one of these images, it'd be the green one).
Michelle: Aw, nice! I’m glad you think so! This series was inspired by diners lacking the luxury of being seated at a table – my stepdad who rests his sandwich on his thigh in between bites (hell with a plate!) while he blasts an action movie on his TV; a commuter cramped up on a crowded bus retrieving an item from a bag; a lunch-breaker on a park bench eating from his lap. They’re informal spaces, and the diner always appears to be comfortable and perfectly satisfied with their chosen snack, almost zen-like. Peace of mind: Anything pickled or fermented. A beautiful loaf of bread with a great crust and a chewy interior with lots of holes. Garlicky greens at any Chinese restaurant. And babka – I love that dry cocoa.
If there is anything to conclude about this series... it would be?
Michelle: A hash brown is the perfect accessory.
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