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Petrina Tinslay

Studio Visit

11th January, 2013
Lucy Feagins
Friday 11th January 2013

Photography by Petrina Tinslay and styling by Bronwyn Riedel for Bauwerk Colour.

Photography by Petrina Tinslay and styling by Alison Attenborough for cookbook Cooking with Friends.
Photography by Petrina Tinslay and styling by David Morgan for The Food Dept.

Photography by Petrina Tinslay and styling by Lynsey Fryers for Inside Out.

Photography by Petrina Tinslay and styling by Jeff Leatham for Vogye Living.

Ok so in dealing with Petrina Tinslay over the past week or so whilst pulling together this interview, I have learned why she is one of Australia's most respected and in demand photographers.  It's not just her incredible talent (though clearly, she's a freakin' superstar).  It's professionalism!  This lady is seriously amazing.  So reliable! So organised!  So lovely to deal with, and so generous with background info and captions.  Petrina wins our award for speediest and most streamlined response to a TDF interview ever!  Thankyou Petrina! :)

Seriously though, have a look at her work.  SO so beautiful.  Petrina is one of Australia’s best known editorial photographers, and has spent more than 20 years shooting incredible food, interiors, travel and portraits for some of Australia’s most respected publications.  She's also shot over 40 cook books!

What shines in this interview is not just Petrina's immense talent and experience, but her genuine passion for her craft.  She speaks with such joy and enthusiasm about every stage of her career - from her apprenticeship assisting Geoff Lung, to early days shooting cosmetics spreads for Vogue Australia, to her first cook books - including Donna Hay’s very first Marie Claire Cookbook - Cooking.   It was such an amazing time, when Australian food publishing in particular was really in its heyday (or should I say 'Hay' day?).  In the mid 90's, Donna Hay and Petrina Tinslay were a creative force to be reckoned with!  They really did set the trend for that minimal, pared back style in food photography that is still so relevant and current today.

Petrina shot five books in total with Donna Hay, followed by several for Nigella Lawson and Bill Granger, Delia Smith and Michele Cranston, and many more.  These days Petrina works on a great variety of editorial projects in Sydney, and also travels frequently to New York, London and across Asia for work.  She still shoots a lot of food, but also travel, lifestyle and interiors.

Last year Petrina also launched a very special project - a seriously stunning food blog called The Food Dept!  The Food Dept. was co-founded with art director Anne Marie Cummins, and produced with respected food stylist David Morgan and food editor Sally Courtney.  This stellar team have over 65 years of professional experience between them... so it goes without saying, the blog is incredible!  It's interesting to see a seasoned bunch of print media professionals join the blogosphere in such a bold way.  For many photographers and print media professionals, online platforms such as blogs and Pinterest are something to be wary of, but Petrina and her team really have embraced the medium, seeing its opportunities not just its pitfalls.  The results speak for themselves...  Bookmark immediately!

Massive thanks to Petrina for joining us today!  What a star.

Petrina Tinslay in the studio.  Photograph - Geoff Lung.
You’re one of Australia’s best known editorial photographers, and have spent more than 20 years shooting incredible food, interiors, travel and portraits for some of Australia’s most respected publications. But, can you tell us a little about your early background – what path led you to photography originally?

I was incredibly lucky to have a wonderful art teacher in my last year of secondary school who had enormous passion and energy for photography. Her excitement for the medium rubbed off on me and I spent most lunch hours in the dark room printing images that I’d photographed on the weekends. My interest in image making was truly fuelled. My father had taught me the basics about apertures, ISO’s and depth of field. We have a running joke that he taught me everything I know about photography. He definitely taught me all the basics with incredible patience.

At around the same time I was going to performance art pieces by Stelarc, film screenings of Cocteau and Fellini, and various art exhibition openings associated with my brother’s first year at City Art Institute. My path had been set and my interest sparked in the arts and I spent the next three years at Sydney College of the Arts in Balmain studying photography and film.

Photography can be a notoriously difficult industry to break in to – what trajectory did your career take from finishing your studies to working as an editorial photographer?

Following my graduation from art school I started as a freelance photographic assistant working for several photographers in the advertising, still life area and then was very lucky to land a full-time job as an assistant to photographer Geoff Lung. The work Geoff did was incredibly diverse and creative, and he was working for every prestigious magazine in both Australia and worldwide, across all types of subject matters including interiors, still life, portraits, travel and food.

It was a wonderful apprenticeship with an extremely talented shooter, and it was so fascinating to me to be shooting somewhere different everyday and seeing wonderful things and meeting all sorts of interesting people. I was hooked on editorial shooting and knew that it suited my need for variety and challenge in my work. It was a natural progression that I started shooting with magazines when I finally went out on my own as a photographer.

Photography by Petrina Tinslay and styling by Alex Gordon for Vogue Living.
Was there a defining moment or ‘big break’ in your career early on?

My first regular gig as a freelance photographer was shooting the cosmetics still lives for Vogue Australia. I had a ball every month experimenting with new ways to make lipstick, foundation and nail polish look different and interesting. I did lots of magazine stories too encompassing interiors, people and food, then shot Neil Perry’s first cookbook for Rockpool Restaurant and this was soon followed by Donna Hay’s first Marie Claire Cookbook Cooking. This book did incredibly well and set the style for pared back simplicity in food photography in books and magazines at the time.

I then shot four more books with Donna Hay, one winning the prestigious James Beard Foundation 'Best Food Photography' award in 2000. This was followed by several for Nigella Lawson and Bill Granger, Delia Smith and Michele Cranston, amongst many others. I’ve shot over 40 cookbooks in my career now with some extremely talented chefs/cooks. I love book projects because of the extended time frame you get to work with a team to develop a look or style for the publication. It is so different from shooting one or two day projects in that regard. You definitely bond over a book and some of my most wonderful friends have come from these sorts of projects.

Photography Petrina Tinslay and styling by Alison Attenborough for cookbook Cooking with Friends.
Your blog ‘The Food Dept’ is so incredible! Can you give us a little info about this amazing side project? Who is involved, when did it first launch, and where did the concept come from originally? What are your goals for ‘The Food Dept’?

Thank you! We are really proud to have a very loyal following after only 10 months online. The Food Dept. is a wonderful collaboration between myself and co-founder Anne Marie Cummins (our talented creative director), food stylist extraordinaire David Morgan, and our inimitable food editor Sally Courtney. We launched in March 2012 and do a major post monthly with one to two smaller posts in between.

We have a combined 65+ years experience between us in the food publishing industry. The concept came about when Anne Marie and I were at a restaurant launch party, discussing how the magazine industry had changed so much, making it a lot harder to express our creativity without restrictions. We wanted to create an outlet where we could work in a free, organic and creative way, producing high quality imagery and recipes, and explore visual ideas where perhaps we couldn't elsewhere. We thought the perfect way to do this was in a blog format, and David and Sally soon joined us to round out our team.

We all bring distinct talents and perspectives from our various backgrounds to the fore on our shoots, and compliment each other very well. I find it wonderful to be working in a collaborative way with this talented team, as often I come into jobs after concepts have been realised, and then have little to do with the edit process or final product once it leaves my hands. It’s a great thing to be a part of the whole process from start to finish with The Food Dept., with a team who are all as equally passionate about what they do as I am.

Our goals ahead are to keep producing high quality posts for our readers every month, and publish our first cookbook together of The Food Dept. images and recipes. Lots of plans ahead to grow and produce exciting content.

The creative team behind The Food Dept. blog! From left to right Petrina Tinslay, David Morgan, Anne Marie Cummins and Sally Courtney.

Photography by Petrina Tinslay and styling by David Morgan for The Food Dept.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of your business – i.e. where is your studio based, do you employ staff/assistants, which significant tasks do you outsource?

I’ve had so much work out of Australia in the recent few years, it seemed superfluous to have a studio when I was away so much. Even my work in Sydney tends to be on location lately. So I now have an office that I use as a base in Surry Hills, and I rent studios that suit my particular job needs as I go, wherever I am. After having a studio for almost twenty years, this now works really well for me and allows far greater freedom to travel with my work.

I utilise regular freelance photo assistants and digital techs to work with me on my jobs wherever I am. I have several who have been working with me for years in Sydney, New York, London  and in Asia, who I can rely on and who are very loyal to me. A great assistant is absolute gold and I try to be loyal in return. I usually outsource the more complex retouching of my images when required. I think this is a whole other skill set that some spend many years honing, and I’d rather spend my time shooting and creating images.

Photography by Petrina Tinslay and styling by Alison Attenborough for cookbook Cooking with Friends.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?

There is really no typical day for me at all. Every day is completely different, which is what I love about my work. One day I might be on a travel story in some remote location, the next back in the office prepping/processing images for delivery to a client, another day shooting an interior for a magazine, and another out and about going to a pre-production meeting for an advertising job I’m producing.

There is always something happening and I always have a running list of tasks to complete. I really feel very blessed to do what I love, and be able to make my living from it, and at the same time working alongside so many wonderfully talented chefs, designers, artists, art directors and stylists, and being inspired by them every day.

Photography by Petrina Tinslay for You Magazine UK.
Can you list for us which resources, across any media, you tune in to regularly for a bolt of creative inspiration?

I think for me travel brings the very best bolt of creative inspiration. It opens your points of reference for creative ideas in so many wonderful and unexpected ways. I always feel the most inspired and reinvigorated creatively after a trip away. There is nothing quite like it. In terms of magazines it has been sad to see so many great ones close over the last few years. I do love a magazine printed on a great paper stock, and being able to turn textured magazine (or book) pages is a very tactile thing. A tablet device will never replace this experience for me.

Some current favourites include Kinfolk, Port, Smith Journal and Bloom. The internet holds so much imagery with the advent of Instagram and Pinterest, as just two examples. We have never been at a point in history where imagery is utilised by so many. It is truly a revolution that has seen our industry change dramatically, with everyone having ready access to image making tools at an affordable price, and with the means to disseminate them very widely. It has been an interesting evolution. It is inevitable that all creatives now find creative inspiration online. I’m certainly no exception.

Photography and styling by Petrina Tinslay for Marie Claire.
Which other Australian photographers, stylists or other creative people do you admire?

There are certainly some extremely talented creatives on our shores. I think this is confirmed by the fact that they get snapped up overseas with great gusto. There has never been a time when you are more aware at how visually aware everyone is, and that there are extremely talented image makers out there. It is a really great thing that images can now be shared so readily. It does make you realise the absolute wealth of talent there is. Anna-Wili Highfield is a real Australian favourite. She is a wonderful sculptor I’ve been collaborating with recently. Her paper works are absolutely gorgeous and it’s a joy to visit her studio and photograph her new works.

What would be your dream creative project?

So many! I love travel and food more than almost anything and these for me are almost inseparable as experiences. So anything that combines these things is a dream come true for me. If there is design, architecture, beautiful interiors or art thrown in there too, I’m just in heaven.

What are you looking forward to?

2013 is looking to be a great year with some really exciting projects in the works. An interiors/lifestyle book in Paris, another in Berlin and The Food Dept. cookbook, which we hope to complete this year. There is also a possible collaboration with Nigella Lawson on a new project that I’m very excited about. I also have some magazine and advertising work in Asia, London and the USA. I hope that is a year of some great creative adventures and some great travel adventures.

Sydney Questions

Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

I live in Surry Hills and find it a wonderful and ever evolving suburb with great shops, galleries, markets, cafes and restaurants. I find the diversity of the people living and working in the area fascinating. It has a really creative heart, but then still has the rough edge from its past. It’s easy to either walk or cycle the suburb with the new cycleways. There is not a lot I can’t get a short walk away in the area. It’s a standout favourite.

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

My favourite food experiences include simple food, good ingredients and great company. I have so many great locals in Surry Hills, including Japanese, Vietnamese and Italian just a stone’s throw from my apartment. Billy Kwong and Berta are my favourite local favourites.

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

There are a number of places I go depending on what I’m needing. It’s really varied for photographic needs, as all different photo brands have different suppliers in Sydney, so no one place in particular. I’m often at the Apple Store though for my computer needs!

For great reference material I buy my art books at Published Art in Surry Hills who source rather unusual and hard to find photography and art books, or Ariel Booksellers in Paddington. These trips usually include buying several more titles than I’d counted on! I really want bookstores to be a part of our local communities into the future, so I try to support them by not buying online wherever possible. I cannot imagine not being able to walk into a bookstore and being able to flip through the pages of a book before purchasing it. I think it will be a terrible day when our bookstores no longer exist, which is fast becoming a reality as online takes over the market.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Most Saturday mornings when I’m not away travelling, you can find me swimming at a local beach sea water pool, and having a coffee afterwards with friends. Sometimes I head to Eveleigh Markets to get my fresh fruit and vegetable, or if the Surry Hills Markets are on (once a month) you can find me scouring the stalls for a bargain. It is most typically a lazy day catching up from the week.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

I’m not sure Sydney has any real secrets, but there are definitely things that I love that are very Sydney to me. Bourke St Bakery (the original on Bourke Street) for great coffee and everything else they sell. A run on the beach or swim in a sea pool early in the morning before the crowds. When I come home from overseas these are the first things I do.

Photography by Petrina Tinslay and styling by John Wilson for Marie Claire.

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