In Israel, Eat Slowly: Bon Appetit, and Smile for the Camera

Food photographer Haim Yosef spent two years capturing Israel's food professionals digging into carefully constructed meals. The resulting photo exhibition is full of an intimacy that speaks about more than just food.

What happens when you bring a bunch of chefs and other food professionals into a studio, hand them a plate of food and instruct them to eat in front of a camera? Food photographer Haim Yosef sought to explore just that with his first solo photo exhibition, "Eat Slowly," now on display in Jaffa.

Yosef is a member of Israel's branch of the global Slow Food movement, which seeks to preserve traditional and regional cuisine as an alternative to fast food. Yosef spent two years inviting Israel's culinary professionals - bakers, chefs, food photographers and food journalists, as well as a few family members and friends - into his studio to be photographed. He cooked meals for them, based on their tastes and his acquaintance with them, and sat them in front of the camera. 

Yosef, 34, has a degree in photography from Bezalel, and has also worked as a cook in restaurants. He instructed his subjects to eat slowly - because he needed a chance to take photos, but also in order to enable his subjects to think about what they were eating.

The subjects were placed in a set framework - a neutral studio backdrop and table - and were told how to sit.

The resulting project is a series of 45 photographs - 21 of which are on display - that reveal the introspection and intimacy that results from this restrictive setting in front of the camera's eye. They offer a glimpse into the subjects' relationship with both the photographer and the food, and draw the viewer's attention to the expressions of the individuals. In some photos, the food itself is even cropped out.

Actress Noa Friedman eating pasta with dates and chili.

Yosef explains that the neutral studio atmosphere gave the subjects a chance to examine their food - what it's made from, how the plate is arranged, where the ingredients are from - something that doesn't happen when eating street food, for instance, he says. He hopes that the exhibition will draw viewers to do the same, he says.

Project participants were essentially asked to get past one of the social taboos associated with dining - the dictate that keeps people from starting to eat in front of friends who are not eating, in this case, Yosef behind the camera. His subjects understood this and got into the role, Yosef says. Only his father asked him whether he was going to eat too.

Chef Maoz Alonim eating bourekas filled with bacon and chili.

One of his photographs features chef Maoz Alonim, the owner of Habasta, where Yosef used to work as a cook. For Alonim, Yosef prepared his grandmother's boureka recipe, with a modern twist - fillings included bacon and chili.

Chef Orel Kimchi eating a pork belly sandwich.

Another subject is chef Orel Kimchi of Popina, where Yosef worked as a cook as well. For Kimchi, Yosef prepared a sandwich with a whole kilo of pork belly. Kimchi grinned ear to ear throughout the entire photo shoot, Yosef recalls.

The exhibition is on display at Jaffa Salon of Art, Hangar 2 at the Jaffa Port, through June 20.

Master's student and friend Einav Reissman eating meat tartar.