Denis Piel (b.1944, France), raised in Australia is an internationally acclaimed photographer, best known for his groundbreaking editorial work during fashion’s halcyon days of 1980s Vogue. He received the Leica Medal of Excellence for Commercial Photography in 1987.

One great gift offered as a photographer nurtured by Vogue was to stay at some of the most luxurious resorts and hotels in the world and eat in the very best restaurants. Piel’s beloved French grandparents had already cultivated his love of fine food, and he relished the experiences that his profession offered him.

Piel’s preoccupation with food has found expression across many forms, from the evolving photographic series PLATESCAPES to Les Jardins du Château de Padiès, the permaculture garden and farm run by his family.

Drawing upon a ten-year period, from 1985 to 1995, Piel presents a selection of photographs and transcribed audio recordings from PLATESCAPES alongside biographical photographs, personal writing and recipes.

We eat; the need to eat is a leveller, it binds us together, and it makes us dependent upon the natural world. It is one of the few experiences common to us all regardless of location or time, from a St Barts fisherman to a prominent Parisian intellectual.

A meal is a cultural expression; food is a celebration; food is consolation; a plate becomes a tool of psychoanalysis; a restaurant is a theatre; the table is a stage; the restaurant scene is terra-incognito to be explored; favourite restaurants are destinations; his young son is a new explorer into this culinary world; a favourite recipe is a mnemonic which holds a memory of a person or time; and ultimately, a home-cooked meal for another is a token of love and connection.

During these years Piel met the woman who was to become his wife, Elaine Merkus, and with whom he would have a son, Olivier. Relocating to the South-West of France they renovated Château de Padiès and developed Les Jardins du Château de Padiès, where Olivier has developed and produces some of the finest organic products and produce in the region.

At the heart of this book lies the sheer joy and consolation in the transient, ephemeral nature of coming together to enjoy a meal.

© Ruth MacPherson

The proximity of the subject to the camera suggests intimacy. In our day-to-day lives, we have grown used to viewing objects at a certain scale. Gone is the child-like curiosity that draws scrutiny upon an object, the magical object coveted and visually explored in hyper-focus. To see such objects close up reminds us of being children when the world was larger than it is now. It also speaks of lovers, those we allow to approach us, to see us 'up close'.

In the universal activity of man lies a universe of gestures and emotions, a thumbprint of our particular identities, left on tables around the world, every day.

© Howard Altmann

Platescapes draws upon piel's enduring need to get under the skin of his subject, to try and understand and reveal something of their reality. In many ways, Platescapes are wryly curious observations of others; in that respect, these images are very much portraits as any conventional portrait.



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