Dirt: The colorful world of Noah Fecks

A chat with the photographer who makes food look like a party

Dirt is a daily email about entertainment.

Jason Diamond on the beauty of playing with food

During the worst parts of the pandemic, the days where I was low and feeling like we’d be stuck inside and never able to see the people we loved again, I looked at a lot of food photography on Instagram. It was my comfort content. I loved the stuff my wife and I cooked (except my sad nacho lasagna, but I won’t get into that), but I missed eating with other people and I missed seeing food by other people in person. Sure, we could order in, but there is something a little disconnected about ordering from a favorite place that you’d normally eat at. The whole experience is stunted. The noise, the smells, the talk and, especially, the food. The feeling of one thing coming out after another is always my favorite part of any night out.

Of all the food photography I looked at, Noah Fecks was and remains my favorite. The colors, the playfulness, the appreciation for each subject he shoots. He’s the ideal photographer for the Instagram age, with each shot he shares as sharable and lovely as the next. I’d sit for a few minutes just getting lost in each one and hoping that sooner or later I’d be able to really enjoy eating again. I mean, I always like to eat, but there has been a mostly grey tone that has tinted everything over the last year and a half. I can always count on Fecks to add some color.

I reached out to Fecks over e-mail because I was curious how he does what he does. I wanted to know how he makes every piece of food look like the greatest party ever.

Jason Diamond: I know there are a few great food photographers out there, but I can't think of many whose work I recognize like yours. I'll see something and I'm like "That's Noah Fecks." How did you develop your style of shooting? 

Noah Fecks: WOW… This is really one of those things I think any artist would simply just kill to hear! It’s the goal, isn’t it? To be recognizable and to be celebrated and known for your look or style. I’m honored and elated that you see that in what I do! 

For me, the name of the game is color. I think in color and start with color as a mood or idea. Then when it comes to execution, I want to keep things as simple and off the cuff as possible. Rather than get weighted down with a lot of technology or equipment, I try to let the subject or concept take the wheel and keep the tech stuff in the background.

My real secret (which I guess is a secret no more) is that mostly shoot with very simple cameras and I use “toy,” amateur or alternative forms of flash and lighting. By keeping the gear as stripped down as possible, I can stay true to what I see and hear in my mind.

JD: Why do you like to shoot food? 

NF: Food is an art form, full stop. It’s not just that I see food as a vehicle for expression, but one that is accessible to everyone. It’s the art that everyone can be a part of. I experience food in this way that goes miles beyond sustenance, and into the dimension of poetry and painting. It just has  such a deep ability for me to be a tool for art and expression.

Also, I am a firm believer in the trope that “food people are the best people.” I am fully that person who’s down to talk about chanterelles for an hour and a half with a stranger on a plane, and I’m thrilled that there’s a million weirdos out there nowadays that will do the same.

JD: Do you have any photographers or other artists you'd say influence you? 

NF: OH hundreds really. I’m a full obsessive with photography and can mentally conjure thousands of photographs and images throughout history and describe them with extreme nuance at will. I’m a little crazy that way with photography in the sense that I can tell you the name, date and title of zillions of famous photographs.

I generally enjoy images that come from fashion or art, never from the “food world.” I will forever be a big fan of Rebecca Blake and Chris Von Wagenheim and Antonio Lopez. That kind of crazy erotic/horror/fashion/art/glamour moment from the late seventies. I also worship Gary Lee Boas and his ability to live fully in a moment without pretense. He’s probably the most zen-evolved photographer I could name.

JD: Is there any particular food that pops out to you that was the most fun to shoot? 

NF: I think a good taco will never let you down. Also, there’s always going to be a sandwich I’ve never heard of and I’m dying to photography. I think the key thing Is to just have fun, so I’m glad you had that word in your question, I think as long as you can have fun with something, it will BE fun. I don’t drink anymore, but I honestly love love love to shoot cocktails. They are always evolving and getting more grandiose and ridiculous. Cocktails are always a pleasure to photograph.

JD: I was looking at this photo of yours of a couple of lobsters in a container and was thinking what do you look for when you're shooting something? Is it color, the way something is positioned or something else? 

NF: I love that image. Those lobsters were steamed at the supermarket for us, and were in the studio that morning to be placed in a set later. I loved how beautiful they looked under a stretched plastic sheen. I find that humor guides me more than anything, as well as camp. Both of which go hand in hand, don’t they? The big influence and driver is always humor, fun and just plain silliness. I think I’m always and forever going to be that sixteen year old that rebels against “fancy food” and begins dancing on the table and makes grilled cheese and has cereal for dinner. I think there’s a Bart Simpson inside me that will always want to play with his food more than eat it. I love to eat, but really I’m way more interested in just playing and being bad :)

The Dirt: A good taco will never let you down