Roman Udalov is adorable and extremely talented. The Los Angeles-based photographer has a knack for just about every photographic practice; his portraits are haunting and eccentric, his still lifes are one-of-a-kind and he's made his mark in the world of food photography with beautiful and delectable images, but his most impressive project to us has got to be Blak Früt.
We spoke to the world traveller about LA, vomiting and the antithetical nature of Blak Früt.
MF: What's your earliest food memory?
I had to think about this one for a while. I was super young. I was at some weird day care in a woman's garage. I was eating a hot dog, and i bit into this huge rubbery piece that i had no idea what it was, but it was the grossest thing ever. I freaked out and threw up everywhere. I haven't eaten a hot dog since. My second food memory is at my family's dinner table. My mom had made ratatouille and my brother said the name meant Rat Tails and Brains. I threw up at the dinner table. Not surprisingly, i have a complex relationship with food as an adult.
MF: What's your favorite cuisine?
I love Italian food. Pizza and pasta, mostly. Seriously, i could eat pesto with some version of pasta every single day (and often, i do). I feel super obese whenever i do though, so, it's a conundrum. But whatever, bears are in, right?
MF: What's the sexiest thing a guy can eat?
Ice cream on a cone. Not nearly enough adult men eat ice cream this way. They always opt for a cup. There's something so innocent and child like (but like, a sexy child) just standing there licking an ice cream cone. When I lived in Provincetown i remember biking down the street and there was this total leather daddy (in full on harness, chaps, and boots) just standing there licking an ice cream cone. i stopped and chatted with him. It makes someone approachable. Vulnerable, almost. Who could be a jerk while eating ice cream on a cone? it's basically a sign saying "i'm a decent person, come talk to me!" and what's sexier than approachability?
MF: What's the least sexy?
Hot dogs. With ketchup. i can't make out with anyone who's had either hot dogs, ketchup, or worse.. both.. for AT LEAST an hour after i see that. And i have to see them wash it down with some sort of liquid. I get grossed out by the thought of kissing someone who's had hot dogs and ketchup in their mouth. I should just call that a deal breaker. It pretty much is.
MF: Favorite restaurant in LA?
There are so many! I have all kinds of favorites. I even have a favorite "vegetarian indian place" that you have to ring a bell and be buzzed in but the decor is awesome and it's always packed. it's like a secret, and i like it just for that reason. The food is just ok. But my all-around favorite is Milo and Olive in Santa Monica. The food is awesome, the wait staff is super friendly and lot of fun, and they don't take reservations. It used to be this tiny place that seated maybe 15 people but they expanded while keeping the same feeling. I love everything about it. It's my absolute go-to if i'm on the west side.
MF: Favorite meal to cook at home?
I don't have any staples (except pesto pasta, but that's not really "cooking"). I much prefer to blindly cook with a friend- where I bring some ingredients and they bring some and we get together and just make something with what we got. Those have been my favorite meals, and they're rarely repeated. We don't even know what we are doing but it always comes out well. One of my favorite ingredients to cook is garlic- it just smells so good while being sautéed or roasted. a kitchen that smells like garlic is always inviting and smells like home.
MF: Tell us about Blak Früt. What inspired it? (I see a lot of food "art" photography and this is by far one of the most striking takes I've seen).
I had been shooting food regularly for maybe a couple years and a lot of it was feeling the same. I was in a rut. I wanted to do a food shoot on my own, so i just thought about what i wanted to see. The idea just came to me one day to do an all black food photo shoot. Other than that, there was no real inspiration. I asked a couple of my creative friends (Danny Dolan & Dare Williams) to help out, and they really helped the idea move forward. I knew i wanted still life shots of the food but also portraits where people were interacting with food in some way. It was all very natural for us. Out of this shoot, our creative collective VOMIR was born. We've worked together ever since.
MF: What relation do you see between the commercial food photography you produce and the art-food photography like Blak Früt?
Commercial food photography is always selling you something. it's usually selling you something that's better than reality. When i shoot food for clients, i often ask that they present it how it will be presented in real life. I usually work with high-end clients with visionary chefs who make beautiful dishes so that's not too hard to do. But Black Früt wasn't selling you anything. In fact, it made everything inedible, or destroyed it all together. It was, in a way, an anti-food shoot. I'm very much an "anti" person. I go for weird and sad before i go for pretty.
MF: For me, there's clear cues to fetish, leather, etc in Blak Früt. Where does fetishism connect here?
I really wasn't thinking that at all, but i can totally see that. We were laughing a lot during the shoot about how silly some of the shots were. But there definitely is a dark side to it all. One of my favorites is the one of Dare turned away from the eggplant. It's the rejection of an offering. That resonates with me a lot. Interpret that as you will.
MF: What are all the foods in the series?
Anything i could get my hands on at the 99¢ store, which is the cheapest, lowest quality food in the world. Don't ever shop there! I did focus on things that had structure, that would look identifiable when painted black. Like, a watermelon wouldn't work at all, but they work in regular food photography, they're so graphic. I also had to consider what would fit on a plate. Bananas, grapes, tomatoes (on a vine).. those kinds of things, you can tell what they are by their silhouette, and that's what i was going for.
MF: What is the plate ware?
Just things i thought were interesting from the thrift store. i don't think i paid more than $1 for any one thing. Thrift stores are great for that kind of thing. I wanted some fancy vintage and antique borders and textures and that was super easy to find. I was actually super impressed with the variety i was able to pick up in just one place. It all worked out really well for me.
MF: What are you working on now?
VOMIR just shot a story that we are editing and would love to get it out soon. That's my baby right now. The shoot was super fun. I am also just shooting some stuff here commercially and there but nothing really worth mentioning. I really just want to push VOMIR as often as i can. I don't care if it doesn't make me any money. I love it. It's creative freedom. I want the world to see me at THAT guy.
More Blak Früt: