Each year, the island of Bali is imprinted by the footprints of over 7.2 million human beings. About 4.2 million of them are locals and about 3 million of them are foreign tourists. Despite all the commonalities and differences between these beings, one thing is for sure: they all have a different Bali story. Who they are, what they love, and what they see. In our series, From The Lens, we showcase the galleries of individuals who have stepped behind a lens and snapped Bali through their eyes. From a local grom with a disposable camera, to a professional with the latest DSLR, with every Tom, Dick and Wayan in between.
Bali as seen by food photographer Dhita Beechey
Who are you and what do you do?
I was born in Indonesian and grew up with my mother making a living in a catering business. Being an Indonesian, food has been an important part of my life. We celebrate life with food. Food means family, warmth and togetherness. I married a New Zealander who, at the time we met, was a head chef in a hotel. We moved to China, living and travelling to different parts of the country with him working in the hospitality industry while I explored the richness of Chinese cuisine. I started food blogging and taking photographs of my home cooked meals. I picked up some photography skills from a seasoned Dutch photographer and finally, when the School of Visual Arts New York opened a summer residency program in Shanghai, I joined the class. In Shanghai at that time, food photographers were practically non-existed. I was privileged enough to do some work with a few clients there.
After 10 years in Shanghai, we decided to move back home. We settled in Bali where I now do food photography and styling for magazines, hotels and restaurants.
What inspires your photography and you as a person?
My love for food photography is about making that piece of bread look absolutely scrumptious or that perfectly cooked rib eye steak look incredibly juicy; photos that makes you want to dive right in. Food photographers have a completely different take on photography. Most prefer to use a macro lens and often use a selection of unusual props. Depending on the type of shoot, my collection of props include basalt rocks, rusty corrugated iron, a tarnished steel tray, white washed wooden planks, dry branches, a bird’s nest, a collection of dried flowers and all kinds of items that would produce a nice texture in closeup shots. I’m constantly searching for photo props.
Choosing the hero food is usually an arduous process; changing plates, colour matching of plates-napkins-fork and background, garnishing up the dish to make it look interesting – a lot of minuscule adjustments to get the perfect composition. I always keep a pair of food tong and cutips in my back pocket. What’s rewarding about this job is connecting with the chef, who puts his or her soul into that pretty food, and being able to capture that soul in the dish.
It’s almost like an unspoken bond that we’re both doing what we do because it’s a labor of love.
Where are your favourite places to capture photographs in Bali?
When I don’t work, I do meet up with other foodies in Bali. We go reviewing new restaurants on a monthly basis and catch up. I think most of us couldn’t survive without posting a photo of food everyday – we inform one another of the new food happenings in Bali through Instagram. @foodcious and @epicurina are pretty up to date with the happenings!
What’s the main lesson Bali has taught you?
To love Indonesian food. Particularly after living away for 10 years where having Indonesian food was such a luxury. I’m so happy that Bali has now become so varied in food choices. As far as I’m concerned, Bali offers the best of both worlds with local and western cuisine. I love it!
What’s the one quote you live by?
I don’t do quotes. I admire Laura Letinsky work and hope that someday I will create something in that direction. Inspirational food art, without having to put a client’s needs into it. I did some work like that previously during my residency and I really enjoyed it.
Where did you first get the idea to take food photos?
The first camera I started using for food – almost 10 years ago – was a Nikon Coolpix. At the time I followed Keiko Oikawa’s food blog and thought I should be able to produce pretty images like that. She was an inspiration. At first I was just doing some f&b shots for the hotel my husband worked at. They liked it. And soon after other hotels and establishment followed suit. By the end of that year I was busy enough to stop blogging and turned into a full time food photographer.