Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in NewYork City. In my late teens and then in my twenties I also lived in Italy and France.
How did you get into your line of work?
I did not begin my work life as a photographer, although photography was a longstanding hobby. After graduating from university, I started a career in fashion public relations for Giorgio Armani and then Dolce & Gabbana. I soon learned that fashion PR would not be for me long term and, after working briefly in film public relations at Miramax Films, I became more and more interested in photography. While visiting my parents in NYC from Paris, I noticed a Travel + Leisure magazine. Flipping through the magazine and looking at the photographs, I remember saying to myself “I could do that….I want to do that…” and called the magazine to ask for an informational interview with the Photo Editor! Luckily I got along well with his assistant over the phone, and after calling and waiting for two weeks, I was granted a meeting.
At the end of this meeting, the photo editor surprised me by offering me a job with him in the photo department which I accepted immediately! He would send me on small shoots to shoot portraits and interiors for the front of the magazine and always supported my work. Soon enough I was showing my own work, and started receiving my own assignments to travel around the world. This is when my career as a photographer was born.
Tell us about the work you do with some of the top chefs from around the world…
Because I photograph chefs in the kitchen and on location, I am constantly learning how they think and what drives them to cook the way they do. Beyond pure flavor and pleasure, the dishes chefs create reflect a perspective about life and the culture in which they grew up and live. So many chefs chose their line of work because of an experience as a child or teen. It is fascinating to see how their sense of purpose and creativity is driven by this time of their lives. Cooking is a powerful form of expression.
What projects have you been involved in over the last couple of years? Tell us about some of your favourites…
I dedicated myself to the creation of SUSHI SHOKUNIN: Japan’s Culinary Masters published by Assouline for almost the entire duration of 2019. I wrote, photographed, and co-designed this monograph. Due to Covid, the release was moved from spring 2020 to the end of September 2020. Last year was clearly fraught with innumerable difficulties, so starting any new, additional culture-based projects – which require in-person interactions – was out of the question. However, I was lucky to have finished SUSHI SHOKUNIN when I did; getting it out into the world was absolutely the highlight of 2020.
Can you tell us more about the new release? What is its backstory and why is it significant to you?
After my previous James Beard Award-winning book TOKYO NEW WAVE, I wanted to focus on the traditional aspects of Japanese food culture. Sushi is arguably the most emblematic of Japanese cuisines, so to learn about it meant to delve much more deeply into Japan itself. My books are food books, not cookbooks: they focus on the anthropological aspects of food, and how art, culture, history and agriculture all intertwine to create essential aspects of cultural identity.
In my introduction to SUSHI SHOKUNIN, I explain why this project is personally significant: my years-long not-self-imposed sushi abstention finally ended and lead – unexpectedly – to the re-discovery of the sushi world. Moving to Tokyo in 2015 opened up a much deeper level of understanding and knowledge that I otherwise would not have discovered. The 20 shokunin (artisans) I chose to focus on in SUSHI SHOKUNIN were and are my teachers; I am forever grateful for the opportunity to know them on a personal level. They taught me so much about craft, devotion, sense of purpose, and perseverance, among other topics.
If you had to look at your work now (both photography and writing), do you think it’s evolved over the last few years? If so, how and why?
Yes, perhaps even more so my writing. As I evolve personally – just from life experience – so too does my perspective. And over time my skills in expressing myself with the written word become more and more personal and evocative. With my photography, my style is still unwaveringly mine, with great attention constantly paid to light and revealing someone’s essence in a rich, painterly way.
In terms of writing, where do you get most of your inspiration from? Is there a goal or specific driving factor behind it?
My inspiration comes directly from the subjects that interest me. I only pursue those projects which involve people who hold my interest and ignite curiosity. I am constantly asking “why” and strive to understand the other person’s perspective and motivation: why he or she is the way he/she is; does what he or she does, and the backstory. Understanding and empathy, and how I feel upon the discovery of some sort of authentic, honest expression of self – especially as tied to food culture – is always moving to me. In turn, this emotion inspires me in both my photography and in my writing. I find joy in conveying my discoveries in my books and other media.
Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, what is your trick to clear your mind and refocus?
Of course! This is an expected part of the writing process. There are moments when the words don’t flow as effortlessly. When this happens, I just take a break, put my work aside, and engage in other activities or nothing at all. Daily pre-pandemic outings like going out to restaurants, museums, and meeting friends all help, but long solo walks, watching films, and reading do too. It might seem counter-intuitive to some, but doing nothing – just sitting and reflecting, or planning for the future – can also be great ways of feeling newly inspired.
If you had to pick the book you have written that was most special to you, which one would it be and why?
They are all special for different reasons. With SUSHI SHOKUNIN, I could say that my heart is on its pages to a greater degree. My reverence and profound appreciation for so many aspects of Japanese culture – such as philosophy, art, and aesthetics – come through. My appreciation for the concept of ikigai (sense of purpose) and the dedicated lives of each shokunin (artisans) is clear in my personal stories about their humanity. These are stories that the majority of the world would not otherwise discover.
Do you have any author and/or photographer role models? If so, who and why?
More than photography role models, I have painter, cinematographer, and director role models. They often inspire me for their use of light and the way they capture their subjects. They convey a mood with which I identify and respond; they often convey a strong aspect of a person which gives us information as to who this person is. One example is cinematographer Christopher Boyle and specifically his work with director Wang Kar-wai.
In terms of photography, would you say you have a particular style?
I will leave that up to the viewer to determine!
Tell us more about the process that leads up to the end product of your images… How do you go about creating such beautiful images from start to finish?
How I see my subjects is personal and in line with an aesthetic that is attractive or beautiful to me. When I meet someone I spontaneously form an idealized picture in my mind’s eye of that person and go about making that picture into a reality. As I am not a photojournalist, I tend to direct my subjects to bring out an elegant aspect of who they are in my portraits. However – and this is key – I always walk into a setting and situation that has not been predetermined or previously seen. I am incredibly spontaneous and am able to create compelling images on the spot using my instinct. As far as an image’s “finish” I am against airbrushing, manipulation, or computer programs in general that alter the reality of an image.
What emotions/reactions do you hope to evoke with your images and your written work?
I leave this mostly up to the viewer and reader; reactions are personal. I just hope that each viewer and reader can recognize and feel the beauty and admiration I feel for my subjects, and learn about them. It is important that the authenticity and soul of the people and places I photograph shine forth and spark curiosity in those who are seeing or reading my work.
Why chefs and the food industry? What interests you about these topics?
The convivial experience of dining with family and friends has long been an integral part of my life. I quickly realized that food is at the heart of culture; if we learn about and experience food – its preparation, its taste and appearance – we can then easily learn about any other aspect of a country including history, politics, art, design, agriculture and sociology. I find great satisfaction in learning about the culinary world as an anthropological topic because it is so multi-layered and rich.
What’s next for you?
I have another book project in the works and another venture that will take me into other areas beyond my titles of Photographer and Author. It is very exciting, but not yet confirmed. Once it is, I will share the news with you!
All images © Andrea Fazzari