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Guy Hand

"Looking at that blank page each time just terrifies me."

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Guy Hand's birthday is on the Fourth of July. Until he was about 5 years old, he thought the celebrating and fireworks were all about him. We at BW are doing a bit of celebrating this month, and it's all about Hand. He has joined the staff to write a weekly column about food and agriculture. But before traveling to the gardens, kitchens and dining rooms across the region, we ordered a main course of food for thought.

We know that for a good many years you made a living from images rather than words. Do you still consider yourself a professional photographer?

I have a really mixed relationship with photography. I started out wanting to be a photojournalist, but all of the opportunities were in advertising. It opened so many doors, and I started traveling all over the world. We'd go to amazing places but shoot stupid pictures, so the initial rush wore off, and I realized it was a big mistake. I worked on the highest level of advertising photography, and we'd be shooting a car in a desert somewhere, but I always thought something else over my shoulder was much more interesting. The photography would take me to amazing places but not to the subjects I was interested in.

So, tell us what a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot is like.

It was surreal, but it was a job. For six weeks we'd be shooting all day long in Bora Bora and all over the Tahitian islands with these beautiful models like Elle Macpherson and Paulina Porizkova, but after about two weeks, the other assistant photographer and I were bored. We'd wake up in the morning and say, "Ugh. There's the alarm. Here we go. All swimsuits, all day." We started chatting up the waitresses in restaurants because they were different than the girls we were spending all day with.

Now I'm more interested in taking pictures as an aside or in context with my writing. I actually wrote several articles on my dissatisfaction with photography.

Where is your passion right now?

Photography and writing are good excuses to be curious and to be in interesting places, talking with interesting people. The writing gets me closer to that than the photography does. It's much more satisfying, but I have to say, looking at that blank page each time just terrifies me.

Do you have ideas for the stories you want to tell?

I'm going to focus on the Year of Idaho Food. We're going to collect stories from all over the state on food and agriculture. For instance, this week we're learning about growing food in winter ("If Weather Were All That Mattered," Page 31).

Did you ever get tired of doing restaurant reviews?

I quit the Idaho Statesman because I was running out of things to say about the restaurant scene in Boise.

Did you ever have a situation where there was really negative feedback from a restaurateur?

Yes. Jon Mortimer said the reason he closed his restaurant [Mortimer's] was my review.

*Editor's note: From the Mortimer's website in June 2008: "For those of you who wonder why we are closing after eight years, the answer is simple: Last month, Jon received the worst review of his career by Hand. Although we were devastated by the review, we both [Jon and his wife Shara] agreed with most of the criticism."

Can you speak a bit about the pop-culture phenomenon of food television?

It's great that more people are becoming more aware and more interested in food, but I think there's a carnival side to it. I think most of the Food Network is just reality television. The competitiveness that they've interjected--that, to me, is a big mistake. What interests me about food is the contemplative, quiet part. Turning food into a spectator sport just doesn't interest me at all.

Do you have any food heroes?

M.F.K. Fisher [The Art of Eating] is a great food writer. And Elizabeth David is a favorite. I love those older-era food writers.

Do you own a lot of cookbooks or food books?

I have about 300. Even before I started writing about food, I would buy books that my friends would make fun of, like The Story of Corn.

What's your favorite comfort food on a cold weekend night?

A slow-braised roast with mashed potatoes.

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