A Visual Feast

Photographer Aubrie Pick’s global chronicles of food and design
Collection of cut fruits, nuts and vegetables on a crackle-finished surface.

Above image: A vibrant harvest shot by Aubrie Pick.

By Linda O’Keeffe

Aubrie Pick’s epicurean images—a panoramic Italian landscape, a Tokyo street market, a bougainvillea arbor in a California vineyard—leave the viewer feeling as if they were by her side as she released the shutter. Her well-traveled eye, poetic lighting, and sense of narrative infuse her photography with atmosphere and soul, and have established her in both the culinary and interior design worlds. Pick up Bon Appétit, Cherry Bombe, Food & Wine, or cookbooks by Chrissy Teigen and chefs Giada DeLaurentiis, Sam Kass, Cedella Marley, and Guy Fieri and you will find her evocative imagery. Peruse shelter media and you’ll encounter her superb photography chronicling the work of leading designers like Ken Fulk, Kelly Hohla, Catherine Kwong, and Lauren Nelson.

Photographer taking picture of family eating.

Pick captures Eating Out Loud author and chef Eden Grinshpan on the streets of Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Pick always perceived photography as part art form, part feasible profession. The notion was primed, no doubt, by hours spent in the darkroom her mother set up in their home and by photography sessions taught at her high school by master’s students from CalArts. Along the way, Pick remembers photographing anything and everything in sight.

As her eye refined, she responded to specific bodies of photography, including Thomas Struth’s honest, black-and-white urban landscapes; the rural industrial artifacts immortalized by Hilla and Bernd Becher; Diane Arbus’s “secret about a secret” portraiture; and Mary Ellen Mark’s photojournalism, particularly the groundbreaking documentary series she created in Mumbai. When Pick attended San Francisco Art Institute, where she earned her BA in photography, the work created by two professors there expanded her vision further, namely Linda Connor’s archaeological landscapes of Ladakh, India, and portraits Reagan Louie took during six years spent traveling across Asia.

Pick paid off her student loan by working in the art department of a magazine, but then, emulating her mentors, she spent three months in India. The portfolio she brought back to the States solidified her aesthetic among art directors and set her on her now well-established path.

In 2020, Pick founded the Good Studios, a 2,000-square-foot studio with shooting kitchen in the heart of the Mission district. We turned the lens on Pick to talk about her work and inspirations.

Some think of you primarily as a food photographer when in fact your portfolio is broad.

I guess it depends which circles you move in, because a lot of the interior designers who commission me are unaware that I shoot so much food. I’m currently in the midst of a three-week cookbook shoot, and afterward I’ll switch over to an interior. One serves as a palette cleanser for the other, and I thrive on the mix—it stretches me and keeps me learning. I also came up working in restaurants, so my affinity for food and food culture runs deep. It’s a passion. To my mind, nourishing people is pretty profound.

Collage of pictures showing a chef relaxing in whites; a set of well-used knife set in leather holder and a table with many wine glasses on a table top after use.

The atmospheric interiors of the new Harwell Godfrey atelier. (L to R) Decorative artist Caroline Lizarraga, Lauren Harwell Godfrey, and Nozawa. The jeweler with a selection of her talismanic designs. The celestial wall treatment. Photos by Bess Friday.

You get to photograph delicious food and wine in amazing locations…

I’ve been given incredible opportunities to travel alongside some of the world’s most talented chefs. For example, Food & Wine hired me to accompany Christian Puglisi to Sicily, where he got back to his Italian roots and taught a one-week cooking course at the Villa Rocca Della Tre Contrade. It was a dream come true. And then I was in Japan working with Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying on their Gaijin Cookbook. That was another dream project. I also get to collaborate with writers and art directors who are at the top of their field, and along the way I absorb so much. There’s a romance associated with those kinds of assignments, but it’s not all glamour—in the background there are a million potatoes to peel.

Has travel always been an important part of your life?

Yes. I spent a good amount of time in Europe when I was growing up, and these days I love taking meandering road trips with my camera in hand. I don’t think taking pictures detracts from or diminishes an actual experience. By that I mean that I’m never drawn out of anything that’s happening because I’m trying to capture it on film. Actually, it’s the opposite. The lens serves as my eye, and as it focuses my vision it sharpens my mind. It gives some ownership and agency, so the experience becomes emotional—I’ve caught a moment in life, and it feels visceral. Being in a liminal space also allows me to shed parts of my identity, but it’s not an artifice. I’m just imagining myself in a different way, and it tickles my brain whenever I’m able to break out of my normal, everyday mode. It’s a nice way to reset.

Yet, as much as I like wandering around—just me and my camera—I’m always happy to be a part of the team effort that’s characteristic of most advertising campaigns and lifestyle shoots. I love the mind meld when a group shares the problem-solving. That type of creative coming together can be very powerful.

Three images showing from left to right someone carrying two empty wine glasses by stems, a view of the dining room set for service and a closeup of a baker holding artisanal loaf of bread.

Interiors from Pick’s central California coast journey for Food & Wine. (Left and center) Santa Barbara’s Loquita restaurant and (right) Bob’s Well Bread Bakery.

What is your favorite part of shooting a restaurant?

 I love watching a busy kitchen work. A team of top chefs performing at high speed when they’re under stress often comes across as a highly practiced dance. Maybe I can relate because I like being up against constraints when I’m working. It tends to push me toward creative solutions.

Is there currently a uniform photographic style in books and magazines?

Art directors like lived-in table settings. Food is no longer on a pedestal, as it has been in the past. Maybe there will be a reaction to all the comfort food we’re currently craving and things will get rarified? It’s hard to say. Overall, there’s a looseness, an informality in styling—messy beds and the one artichoke that rolled away, as it were. Although making interiors look authentic and true to life is a challenge, because, at least in most of the projects I’m hired to shoot, the designer’s contribution needs to be front and center, so things end up looking pretty aspirational.

Two images of home living room and dining room.

Switching over to interiors, is it a good idea for designers to consistently document their work professionally?

I think so. Particularly when they’re starting out and don’t always get to work on full houses. Building a portfolio is important for anyone in any creative field as a document of their journey, and a professionally shot project is evergreen. I advise people not to work with the same photographer all the time—which means I’m probably doing myself out of work—but instead, commission a photographer based on each project’s lighting challenges and its geography. Over time, seeing how different photographers approach their work lets a designer accumulate experience and knowledge.

Should interior designers hire a stylist when they shoot with a professional photographer? 

I always find it positive to have a stylist on board. Creatively, they bring a fresh set of eyes, and they have access to a prop library. Practically, they tend to do the heavy lifting—early morning runs to the flower market, filling bookshelves if a house isn’t yet lived in. They also allow the interior designer to step back and focus more holistically. A designer needs to hold on to their vision as it’s reflected in the touch points that make a space special, because they are documenting a project to generate press and attract clients. At the same time, they should take advantage of a photographer’s fresh eye, so detaching a little and remaining unmarried to any one particular angle or perspective can be really beneficial.

Three images: The first is a view of a bright kitchen with cabinets to ceiling. The second one is of the photographer's team prepping for shoot. The third is the same kitchen as above with a small dog center looking at camera.

You just gave birth to your first child, Romy. Have you photographed her yet? 

I have, and to be honest it’s a little nerve-racking. I’m using my camera rather than an iPhone because I want to do something more formal, but I always seem to be rushed and stressed, because there’s only ever a short window of time. I actively want to document her as she grows up though, and I’m determined not to be too directive. I want to go with the flow.

Two Henry Adams Street, Suite 2M-33
San Francisco, CA 94103