Photography and Anthony Bourdain


I can't get Anthony Bourdain out of my head lately. I suppose because I'm younger, I don't have a particular celebrity death that really hit up to this point, until Anthony Bourdain. I grew up watching the food network and travel shows, mostly because of my father, who remains a fan and inspired by those shows in his own work. Anthony Bourdain was always in the background for me, one of those figures who would just always be around when you wanted to escape your day to day life. Parts Unknown is by far, the best show to have on in the background while editing photos, but lately I found I've been watching them, feverishly analyzing what exactly makes the prickly chef tick.

You can't really know the man until you read Kitchen Confidential, his breakout memoir that highlights his misdeeds and his love for the grease of kitchen life. Currently, I'm reading his most recent book, Medium Raw, which I'm liking a little better. It's not quite as dated, and now, in the context of his recent suicide, it stands as a sort of 30,000 ft view of his entire life and career pretty much up to his death. I'm not sure I would be nearly as into the book if he still had years of a career ahead of him, because it would become quite dated over time as well. Since, sadly, we won't be getting any new work from Anthony Bourdain, Medium Raw will stand as his final letter to the world, and I think it will age really well as a result. 

Here I am, a photographer who is totally re-dedicating his life to his art, reading this book about what it was like to see those chefs who were famous while Bourdain was toiling away and getting his hands dirty in his craft. He makes many complaints that I've heard (and complained about, myself) from photographers who get angry when someone picks up a camera and deems themselves a photographer. Bourdain, in the same way, dared to call out Rachel Ray as one of these criminals in Medium Raw: 

"In my life, in my world, I took it as an article of faith that chefs were unlovable. That's why we were chefs. We were basically....bad people– which is why we lived the way we did, this half-life of work followed by hanging out with others who lived the same life, followed by whatever slivers of emulated normal life we had left to us. ........As chefs, we were proudly dysfunctional. We were misfits. We knew we were misfits, we sensed the empty parts of our souls, the missing parts of our personalities, and this was what had brought us to our profession, had mad us what we were.

....I despised their very likability, as it was a denial of the quality I'd always seen as our best and most distinguishing: our otherness. Rachel Ray, predictably, symbolized everything I thought wrong-- which is to say, incomprehensible to me--about the Brave New World of celebrity chefs, as she wasn't even one of "us". Back then, hearing that title applied to just anyone in an apron was particularly angering. It burned. (Still does a little.)"

I can't tell you how many times I've heard and felt something similar about photographers. It's the same reasons I absolutely cringe and despise words like "influencers", "content", "content creators", etc. The big people that are influencial in photography today are "camera-users", merely showing off their new camera of the week, more than they are photographers making something meaningful and getting dirty.


I really try to pull back on this overly critical version of myself, because it doesn't help me at all. I just end up looking like a jerk when I go on my rants about it. Despite all that, Bourdain identified the reason I feel this way: It's tough seeing those at the top because they seem so foreign to my reality, where I can't afford to buy the newest gear, and I work in the greasy kitchen equivalent of the photography world. Watching someone like Peter McKinnon for example (I don't want to crap on him, he seems like a nice guy and I really don't know that much about him) flash whatever new piece of equipment he has seems completely foreign and eye-roll-inducing when you are working at Lifetouch, one of the circles of photography hell. 

At the end of the day, the source of the frustration and distaste for these hollowed out "influencers" (detect my back-handedness) really is ego and vanity. In Medium Raw, he seems to be somewhat apologetic for some of the things he has said about those he perceives to be "selling out". In the same way I should be, because I've certainly said some crappy things about people that irk me in the past. I couldn't deny myself a blog post on this topic because sometimes, it feel like the guy is literally crawling around in my brain. 

I find that I get the most inspiration from other artists in other art forms other than my own because you find, they all struggle with the same stuff, and it's fun to dive into someone else's work. I have a hard time being interested in deep conversations about the nitty gritty of photography, but I can talk to you all day about food, movies, or music. I may have more to report as I read this book, as I feel like Anthony Bourdain's work isn't done with me yet. 

I've recorded a podcast episode about this particular topic, albeit a little less focused than this post, but I'm not sure when it's going up yet, so I felt the need to get this out via the blog. Not sure if I've said this here or not yet, but I've been recording podcast episodes that document this time in my life as a sort of spur of the moment thing. I'm finally podcasting the Will Malone way, which seems a little more sustainable to me. I want to begin releasing them, but I'm going to store them up a bit more first.