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Katie Quinn Davies

Studio Visit

25th February, 2011
Lucy Feagins
Friday 25th February 2011
All photos and most food styling here by the masterfully talented Katie Quinn Davies.

Rich roasted vegetables.  Photos by Katie Quinn Davies.

'Australia Day' shoot for Real Living magazine.

'Australia Day' shoot for Real Living magazine - WOW take that Martha Stewart!

Utensils and moody shots for What Katie Ate.

OK I hope you are ready for some serious awesomeness.  If you DON'T already know about fantabulous Sydney food blog What Katie Ate, get ready to be seriously impressed.  This is TRULY, no exaggeration, one of the best food blogs I have EVER laid eyes on, and I would say one of Australia's best blogs outright. Katie Quinn Davies is not just a stupendously talented photographer, foodie and sometime food stylist, she's also one of the most driven creatives I have come across, and to top it off, I'm getting the distinct impression she's also a workaholic.

It seems talent + drive + workaholism definitely pays off.  After re-inventing her creative career in 2009 (taking the leap from graphic design to photography), Katie is already shooting for the likes of Martha Stewart Living Magazine(!!), and I would wager that much of her well-deserved success to date has been the result of her insanely popular foodie blog, 'What Katie Ate'.  It is AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING.  If she doesn't have a book deal already I'll eat my hat.

There is nothing else to be said except BOOKMARK IMMEDIATELY.

ALSO check out the BUMPER ONLINE MAGAZINE she put out at Christmastime...!  OMG it has 495 PAGES.  You've never seen anything like it.   Anyone feeling tired and/or inferior?

Katie cooks, styles and shoots for all the What Katie Ate stories... but for her editorial work she's now put multi-tasking on the back burner ('scuse the pun), focussing instead on developing her repertoire to include lifestyle and interiors as well as food photography.  She still styles and shoots all her blog recipes solo, but in the grown up world of print production, she's doing a little more delegation these days.  Phew. Glad to hear it!

THANKYOU KATIE for dedicating so many precious hours to this interview!  We are so lucky to have you!

*ps) Look out for Katie's 10-page spread for Martha Stewart Living Magazine in their upcoming April issue... AND also keep your eyes peeled for a little behind-the-scenes video featuring Katie's work, which will come with the iPad issue of the magazine.  It is shot by super talented Australian photographer (and previous TDF interviewee) Lucas Allen!  I heart my iPad even more right now.

Tell me a little about your background - what path led you to photography?

From 1998 onwards my career was that of a graphic designer/art director specialising in print design. I worked mainly in studios in Dublin and worked for some time in the U.S., then from 2006 when I moved to Australia I took up a design director role in Melbourne. I also freelanced for a while and ran my own design studio for a year or so. In January 2009, after a few years of internal soul searching, due to a realisation I had still yet to find my 'true creative calling' and a growing dis-enchantment in working as a graphic designer for studios, I decided to take a year out and teach myself the skills required to break into the photography industry, with an emphasis in the food area due to my personal love of home cooking, a passion for food styling and also an utter adoration for a handful of Aussie and Scandinavian food photographers who featured monthly in the array of stunning Aussie food magazines and book publications I had come to love over my years visiting and living in Oz. I studied photography as a substantial part of my design degree in art college years back and always had a yearning to get more heavily involved in this area.

In Feb 2009 I decided to bite the bullet, completely stopped working in design and started getting up each morning at 7am to cook, style and shoot 3-4 recipes everyday in an effort to build a portfolio of work so that 12 months or so down the line I might be able to start picking up some small jobs. I learnt a lot through failures but as the year went on I started to see a decent progression. I moved to Sydney in March 2010 and since then my professional photography career has taken off in leaps and bounds.

Lamb for What Katie Ate

What are some favourite recent projects / client and/or publications where we might have seen your work?

I have just completed a 10 page food editorial for Martha Stewart Living Magazine in NYC, which will be out next month in both print and on the iPad app. I also shoot a lot for the likes of Real Living Magazine and a handful of other food mags both here in Oz and the U.S.

Breakfast for Real Living magazine

I seems completely bonkers to STYLE and SHOOT on the same project! Are you crazy?! Do you have assistants to help you out? Do you have 6 sets of hands?

It's actually a bit of a misconception that I shoot AND food style on most of my jobs, I think this has come about from the blog. I do cook, style and shoot but only for myself, aka for my 'What Katie ate' blog. Initially in the early stages I did like to promote myself as doing both styling and shooting as I had to learn both skills in order to break into the industry at the stage I did, but I prefer now to only commercially present myself as a photographer as this is where my real passion lies. I am branching out now into more interior and lifestyle photography work and hopefully a bit of travel in addition to food.

When I am working on food shots for the blog - which is now most weekends as it's the only time I can fit it in, I do wonder sometimes how I get through it all, but I guess it's what I know after being self-taught and that full-on year of working on my own to achieve my goal. When I have to I can work very quickly to combine all three disciplines, however due to my weekly workload sometimes now spilling over into the weekends, my recent secret is my very supportive husband Mike who often morphs into chief washer-upper/scrim holder/hand model/grocery shopping gnome/etc. when he's around on a Saturday or Sunday to help me out.

Recent interiors story by Katie, shot in Orange, NSW

You have a SERIOUSLY EXCELLENT blog ! What inspired you to start ‘What Katie Ate’ and do you feel the blog ties into your published work?

Thanks very much. During 2009 whilst I was building my portfolio, I did a refresher photography lighting course at Swinburne College. It was the tutor of this course who suggested I start a blog, which I honestly laughed off initially thinking 'Who the heck has the time to write a blog!?" also I never saw myself as a writer so the notion of a blog seemed one which was too distant and unfamiliar for me. My tutor was persistent and again mentioned to me I start a food blog if only with the main purpose to promote my photography, he also said 'You should make it all about food in Melbourne - the food markets, gourmet shops, wineries etc etc, and I think you should call it 'What Katie ate'"…

Moussaka for What Katie Ate

The name had me hooked especially as I had read the 'What Katie Did' books as a child. So I set up the blog in June 2009, spent two weeks writing like crazy and uploading my pics then realised 'No one is reading this, why on earth am I bothering?!" So I decided against going any further with What Katie ate. That was until May 2010 - and 2 months after settling into life in Sydney. My husband was away with work in London for 3 weeks so I decided to have another go at the blog and since then it has taken off incredibly well. I now get on average 175,000 hits per month which is growing monthly and being featured on Gwyneth Palthrow's GOOP blog in early October as part of her '10 best food blogs', brought me a huge amount of traffic and new readers to the site. It takes a huge amount of work for me to juggle my daily photographic work along with the blog, therefore I tend to now work 6 or 7 days per week, focusing on the blog only at the weekends. It is a huge labour of love but I am eternally grateful for the people and friends, and the amazing work contacts I have met and secured via the venture. It really does prove what you put in, you will get out in return.

Christmas pork and cherries for What Katie Ate

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

It depends really, if I'm working on a magazine food editorial like I was today, I'm up around 7am; shower; brekkie etc, then the mag team arrive at my home studio around 8/8.30 - so there will be a food editor/cook, prop stylist (sometimes I do tabletop prop styling myself for a client if we're not doing a vast amount of shots, as I have decent enough time in between shots to set the scene up) and a few assistants. They'll start prepping the food and I'll decide weather-dependant if we're shooting inside or out and then set up camera gear - tripod, laptop, scrims and diffusers etc. I shoot only in natural light so don't have to worry about studio lighting etc. Then we'll kick off with the first dish and work through from there - generally shooting around 6-8 dishes per day.

I've developed close working relationships and friendships with the creative teams I work with on a regular basis so generally shoot days for the magazines I work for tends to be very laid back and we have a good laugh throughout the day. Once everyone has left, normally by mid-late afternoon, I'll sit down at the computer in my office, download the pics and start on any post production or editing that is needed. Then it's onto emails and quotes, invoicing etc. I tend to work on average about 16 hour days going from 8am until about 11 or 12 pm, sometimes later. This sort of day is similar if I'm shooting a book and if it's the blog I have to focus on, it'll be similar but in the morning I'll be out getting food for the shoot and writing the recipes before cooking, styling and shooting the pics, then sitting down at the computer to edit and organise the blog posts and text to accompany.

Where do you turn for creative inspiration – travel, local and international magazines, books or the web etc?

I guess I use the web a lot when I have time to browse. I have subscriptions to a gazillion and one foodie mags from all over the place - all the regulars Aussie ones and a few from the U.K. I have hoards of design mags and books collected over the years - especially ones which are typography and illustration focused as well as the likes of Habitus, Dumbo Feather, Grafik, Emigre and IDN etc.

Which other stylists, photographers or other creative people do you admire?

I am hugely inspired by Danish photographer Ditte Isager, she's one photographer who just mesmerises me, I have total admiration for her work. I'm also very inspired by a lot of the leading Aussie and International food and lifestyle photographers - Anson Smart, Lucas Allen (who recently shot me for the Martha Stewart iPad app - a super cool guy), Con Poulos, Alan Benson (who has been a fantastic support to me over the past six months), Sharyn Cairns for her incredible use of light and aesthetic, also John Laurie's work has really caught my eye recently.

I was very fortunate to work with the super talented stylist David Morgan on a recent cookbook. I found David a real inspiration to watch at work, I share a similar aesthetic in regards to the way I style food but he showed me you can really push your ideas and get away with it, so it was a great pairing for me. I hope I get to work with him again someday on a nice moody, atmospheric-style piece of work. Photography aside, I'm blown away by the creative talent of Tim Burton, especially his illustration skills and his overall vision.... and I am a long-standing fan of Radiohead, whose music has had an impact on me for years.

Pasta for What Katie Ate

What is the best thing about your job?

Making a living by doing something I absolutely adore and the realisation that all the hard graft and emotion I put into my career change was totally worth it and meant to be!   I wish I had changed career years earlierm but am so grateful I made the leap when I did.... but in fairness I also feel the years of design has helped train my eye to become a better photographer.

And the worst?

The long hours and the mess my kitchen normally is in by 4pm when I am cooking for the blog and I don't have an assistant to help me clean up… (n.i.g.h.t.m.a.r.e.)

Steak for What Katie Ate

What would be your dream creative project?

That's a really hard one. I'm relatively young in my photography career so I have so many people and subjects yet to work with, obviously the more you evolve and grow the more you aspire to greater things.  I'm an enormous fan of British chef Heston Blumenthal so I'd love to work with him. I'd also possibly spend a month or two crossing America possibly documenting old retro signage/typography and vintage diners, hopefully on my trip away in May this year I can make a bit of this latter interest happen.

Do your friends and family expect perfection at your dinner table!?

I'm not sure, I know a lot of them joke they never want to invite me over to their place for dinner because they can't compete with 'Katie Martha Stewart' ;-) But in fairness (and rather ironically) my dinner parties have become a lot more casual than they were a few years ago, before I got more involved in food as a career. I used to go NUTS making sure everything was perfect with the dinner table settings; spent a small fortune on food and flowers; candles; napkins etc etc etc Zzzzzzzz. Now I'm a lot more chilled and laid-back about it, although I still like to make a bit of an effort as I think people like to be looked after and spoilt a little when they get invited to a 'proper dinner party'.

I love throwing dinner parties, prefer nothing more than the company of good mates; good, relaxed-style food; loads of cheese; Aussie reds and a good bit of banter.  Most dinner parties normally conclude in a wee small hours of the next morning after a lot of very cringe-worthy bad dance moves and singing by all in the sitting-room to very, VERY loud music. I know our poor neighbours must hate us….

Cake and Cheese.  Mmmm.

What are you looking forward to?

Going home for bit in May and having a pint in my favourite Dublin pubs; McDaids and Hogans, before a month long holiday to the U.S. straight after. We're heading to NYC as I've been booked for a job by a big foodie mag based there, then kicking back with some mates in the Big Apple before heading up to New England, Boston and onto Albuquerque to pick up a car and drive 1000 or so miles west on the old Route 66 before hitting CA and a rental house in Venice beach for a week.

Delectable-looking salad for What Katie Ate

Sydney Questions

Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

I'm only living in Sydney after moving up from Melbourne just under a year ago, so still have many neighbourhoods to explore. I love Paddington and Woollhara in particular.  I live in Balmain - closer to Rozelle village. I love both these areas for their village feel. Coming from Dublin too I was drawn to the area initially because of all the old pubs in Balmain as they remind me a lot of the ones from home. I adore the little winding streets and individual cute cottages, also having the benefit of working from a studio at home, I can easily get everything I need from a food perspective for shoots within easy walking distance. There are some great gourmet shops and restaurants in the area and it's only a ten minute commute to the city or under the tunnel to my mates in Paddington.

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

I had a fabulous starter in Lolli Redini in Orange last Saturday, but I guess that doesn't count as it's not in Sydney, so I'm going to say in Rozelle. A fabulous little sustainable fish restaurant located in Rozelle village. I had a perfectly cooked, simple piece of Humpty Doo Barramundi with a wild rice, mint and chick pea salad and pickled radish.

Shots of in Rozelle

Where do you shop in Sydney for the tools of your trade?

The Gourmet Grocer in Balmain is a fave of mine for pretty much everything food. If I'm having mates over for dinner, I can normally get everything on my list from here, Andy who runs the store is a top bloke and he has the best cheese selection in Sydney. I also love Victoire Bakery in Rozelle, Fratelli Fresh for veggies in Potts Point and the Eveleigh or Orange Grove Markets on a Saturday morning.

Pasta making

Where would be find you on a typical Saturday morning?

In bed getting a lie-in, sleeping off the wine from the night before… but more than often nowadays you'll find me at a pilates studio in Rozelle. I'm totally not a morning person (Irish genes), I have no iota how people get up at 5am to exert themselves physically and exercise but due to my increasing workload Monday to Friday, I have to find other times to exercise, so I go 9am Saturday mornings as well as two other days per week when I can. I love it and it really keeps me focused on other aspects of my life outside of work.

Sydney’s best kept secret? in Rozelle.


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