30 / 03 / 2023

Beautiful imperfections with photographer Nathalie Cantacuzino

Nathalie Cantacuzino was barely thirteen years of age when she picked up a camera for the first time. Inherited from her grandfather, the German-made film camera was prone to making hazily abstract images, yet it soon had her shooting simply for the fun of it. Photography eventually became more than just a hobby, with Cantacuzino’s move to Japan in 2015 providing the catalyst for pursuing a wider range of personal and professional projects.

Food features prominently in the Stockholm-born photographer’s images, which convey her passion for both food and the culture that surrounds it. “The reason I got into food photography is the twentieth-century photographer Ed Weston,” explains Cantacuzino. “He photographed a lot of unusual vegetables in a way that looked so beautiful and sensual. It was about capturing the shape of the food, but in a way that also transcends the female body.”

Shot mainly on film, her food photography provides an intimate insight into kitchens, dining rooms and farms throughout Japan. “Whether it’s a Michelin-starred dish or a homemade meal, I want to capture food in a way that is not artificial or set up,” she says. The results are honest and raw at times, inviting the viewer to explore the stories behind the food. For this feature, Cantacuzino shares an insight into a selection of her recent work.


Shui Ishizaka with sujime seaweed, Sea Vegetable Test Kitchen

“Seaweed is just so fascinating. Most people, myself included, probably only know ten or so different types, but there are actually thousands in Japan and around the world. I feel that we really don’t know much about the sea in general; it’s as though we have our own ‘outer space’ on Earth. Shui is a seaweed otaku and I always learn so much when we shoot together. I’m fascinated by people like him who are really into something, so I always jump at the chance to meet them.”


Flame-grilled duck, L’Effervescence

“The first time I went to this Michelin-starred restaurant, I felt a sense of relief. It was as though I was being comforted, like a gentle pat on the back, but there was also some subtle humour. You can feel the message and emotion that Namae-san (chef Shinobu Namae) tries to convey through the food, and his connections to producers. Several years later, I was asked to convey the uniqueness of the restaurant’s kitchen. The space itself is surprisingly quiet, but just like ‘l’effervescence’, there’s a particular warmth and kindness bubbling away in the background.”


Uguisu owner/chef Makoto Konno, Yamanashi prefecture

“Konno-san loves camping and vintage gear, so he brought a lot of great stuff to this outdoor-themed shoot in the woods. He’s a very generous person and approaches French cuisine in a very humble way. His cooking style is warm, like a bistro in the French countryside, and whenever I eat his food I feel as though I’m being embraced by his kindness. In this photo he’s prepping the fire — it’s an intimate moment in an unusual setting.”


A la mode and pancakes, Parlour Kimuraya

“When I was growing up, I always imagined living in the eras I saw in books and films. Visiting a Japanese kissaten (coffee house) also comes with a sense of time travel. I often imagine myself being there decades earlier and wondering how the same dishes would have felt back then. There are still so many kissaten like Kimuraya in Shinbashi and Ginza. You can simply pop in and be instantly transported to another place and time.”


Owner/chef Katy Cole, Locale

“Katy has the ability to cook and manage multiple conversations at the same time. This means that as a customer, you always feel included. I spent a lot of time at Locale during the pandemic and her food really made me feel at home. Even now, I go there just to eat vegetables. She prepares them in a minimal way and just lets them sing for themselves. The dishes give you a very vibrant, positive energy — just like sunshine.”


Kougyoku apple, Nagano prefecture

“While visiting Kako-san (confectionery researcher Kako Osada) in Yamanashi, she took me to meet an apple farmer she was working with. Their beautiful farm was located between the mountains in Nagano, where the crisp, cold air is perfect for growing apples. They farm many of the sweet varieties popular in Japan, but this kougyoku reminded me of the Swedish Ingrid Marie: dark colour, concentrated flavour and a little bit sour.”


Eatrip owner and food director Yuri Nomura, Eatrip Soil

“These behind-the-scenes shots were taken in the rooftop garden at Eatrip Soil. There was some nice light as the sun began to set, and in that moment, Yuri looked very into her own world. She’s a bubbly person, often at the centre of the party and making sure everyone’s having a good time, but at the same time, she also has this sensitive, quiet side.”

Individual images courtesy of Nathalie Cantacuzino

Text by Ben Davis
Photo by Daisuke Hashihara