Blending flavors: Simi Jois on culinary photography and cultural merge
Culinary photographer and stylist Simi Jois brings real passion to her profession, and that’s because both cooking and photography enable her to connect to heritage, family, and community. While growing up in a creative family, with a mother who does portrait embroidery and a sister who’s also an artist, Jois cast around trying to figure out her own calling.
“I grew up in a home where I saw color, I saw light,” she says. “Every evening, we used to spend time critiquing my mother’s work. I think that really shaped my eye for light, color, and composition.”
Jois followed her interests to a career in advertising, but it didn’t turn out to be the creative occupation she’d hoped for. After spending some time as a stay-at-home mom, she experimented with learning piano, sketching, and other pursuits as she tried to find the ideal medium to meet her need for creative expression.
“So I said, until I find something, maybe I'll just document all my recipes on a blog, and you know, start sharing my stories with the world,” she says. “Maybe writing is my thing. And I started writing about the family and about how that food resonates with me. And then I fell in love with photography.”
Image credit: courtesy Simi Jois.
Bringing together taste, tradition, and family
For Jois, a longtime Adobe Stock Contributor and 2021 Artist Development Fund recipient, food is perhaps the only thing her family loves even more than art.
“I think everybody in my house is a foodie,” she says. “While we're eating breakfast, we're talking about lunch — when we're eating lunch, we're talking about what's for dinner. And I think I got married into a family that was even ten notches more into food than the family that I was born into.”
Born in Southern India, Jois spent lots of time in Northern India and is now based in Chicago, where she creates work that captures the culinary traditions at play in Indian-American homes like her own. As Jois was raising her daughter, learning new recipes and trying them out became a huge part of their time together, and her desire to document those experiences arose naturally.
“On special occasions, we may have 10 courses, 14 courses, 18 courses — it depends on what we are celebrating,” she says. “[The meal is presented] on a banana leaf and it's absolutely delicious. It's very hard to explain to Westerners what a seasoning is, because for Indian cooking, the seasoning goes in after everything is cooked — ghee, which is clarified butter, mustard seed, asafetida, and curry leaves.”
Jois’s detailed descriptions of food and cooking speak to the role she plays in staging her scenes, working not just as a photographer but also as a chef, a stylist, and sometimes a model.
“There’s times when I don't get a model,” she says. “I have everything prepped up, and I quickly go and put on something traditional, even a sari sometimes, and I put my camera on a timer, and I end up being the model as well. So, one-stop shop!”
And as her family knows, anyone who ventures into the kitchen is fair game.
“I’ve been so blessed to have a family that is so supportive,” she says. “Almost every project I turn into a group project, so it’s like, can you model this? Can you do this? I’m extremely supported.”
Learning food photography and expressing her heritage
Though the call to food photography was a natural leap, the more Jois engaged with culinary photography the more she realized there was a lot to learn.
“Food photography is not just: a dish that you cook, and then you take a picture of it,” she says. “I took the first picture and I was like, wait a minute. This doesn't look like the food on the table — because the food on the table looked so good, but the picture looked terrible. I started getting curious about how to take pictures of food.”
After 12 years of self-guided efforts and 10 working professionally in culinary photography, Jois has found all kinds of new tools to support her interests while remaining curious and eager to learn.
“The technicalities of light are something that you can pick up from anywhere, so the curiosity in me was like, how does it translate to food? What does shadow do in food — it can be beautiful in food photography and make it moody, and it can also be an ugly little patch that is adding a gray tone to the food.”
Jois has found that self-guided learning serves her better than formal training, though it seems that she tackles every new opportunity as a chance to learn, connect, and identify with herself and her community.
With such dedication, it’s not surprising that, in 2021, she applied to the Adobe Stock Artist Development Fund with a project that responded to the Taste of Heritage creative brief. Her project was selected, and she received a commission.
“The Artist Development Fund and the Taste of Heritage brief have given me a great platform to express my culture in a very modern setting, which is exactly how I am and who I am,” she says. “The project is so close to my heart, because I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time — take a series of pictures showcasing me, my friends, and the whole diaspora in the modern kitchen.”
The portraits Jois paints with words are as idyllic and beautiful as her images. “We are cooking an Indian meal, we are enjoying our culture, we are celebrating it,” she says. "We are as comfortable in a sari as we are in a pair of jeans.”
Artists wanted: Taste of Heritage
Discover Simi Jois’s portfolio of beautiful images on Adobe Stock. Since food photography is always in demand, we’re looking for more thoughtful, artfully composed images of culturally and regionally specific food and ingredients. Be sure to check out our Taste of Heritage creative brief and then submit your own work to Adobe Stock.