Lessons in Light with Andrea Gentl via Eye Swoon
Andrea is half of Gentl & Hyers and she is also one of the most talented food and lifestyle photographers around. Her partnership with Cara Marie Piazza came about in part because of their shared love for elements few would think to appreciate — dying flowers.
For Andrea, this regard for wilting blooms is just one small component of a larger respect for the beauty of decay, a process she chronicles in her ongoing photography series, Natura Morta. Below she shares a few of those photographs, along with some nuggets of wisdom on how she approaches her craft,when she crossed paths with Cara, how she manages to capture light so exquisitely, what she does when natural light is not an option…Andrea covers it all and more, below.
"There is nothing more beautiful to me than a faded flower, drooping, wrinkled and worn as it transforms from vibrancy to transparency. It’s a life cycle and that cycle has always inspired me."
"Though I like natural light best, it’s not always the best option. So, I try to create a memory bank of light from my travels...By really looking, I can access light that feels real and authentic."
Can you share a bit about your background in photography?
I am one half on the photography team of Gentl & Hyers. We are married and have been working together for over 20 years. Though we travel quite a bit for work, we call New York City and Delaware County, New York, home. We shoot still life, travel, portrait, food, beauty and interiors.
How did this collaboration with Cara Marie Piazza come about?
I met Cara while working on a lookbook for our dear friend, designer and artist Alice Waese. Alice and Cara were collaborating on Alice’s fall ’17 collection and we were shooting it. Cara was the natural dye wizardess who brought the frozen flower idea of Alice’s fall collection to life.
I was also following Cara’s adventures on Instagram. Our daughter Lula had shot a portrait of her earlier in the year for Vogue.com. And I started following her then.
I obsessively troll the interwebs for artisans who may want to collaborate. I told Cara I wanted to come see her workspace and when we finally made it happen I was blown away. She is someone who walks the walk and lives the life. There is zero separation between her work and inspiration and how she lives, and it is beautiful.
You have an ongoing series about decay, Natura Morta. Tell us about it.
It is something that may never fully be finished. I have always been interested in that process. There is nothing more beautiful to me than a faded flower, drooping, wrinkled and worn as it transforms from vibrancy to transparency. It’s a life cycle and that cycle has always inspired me. As a kid I was obsessed with the forest floor. I spent many hours overturning leaves and seeing what was underneath. The decay drew me in. Cara’s home was like mine in that there were piles of dead flowers and tables full of fading petals. Her freezer was stuffed with frosty blooms. She was a kindred spirit.
What interests you about shooting the process of decay? How would you describe the beauty?
What I love most about shooting flowers is the process they go through from cut to decay. Peonies, for instance, kind of blow out and give you their best and a day later they begin to change in color until they are leached of all color except the palest version of its former self. I like to cut them and leave them to fade. I mix different kinds of flowers together, creating a palette — it’s almost a shrine or an offering. I like to think of the arrangements as my daily meditations. I sometimes leave them for months, adding and subtracting and moving them from one surface to another.
I always approach the lighting in the same way. I love the way natural light fills in and rounds out a form. It’s most beautifully evident in the Dutch Masters still lifes where highlights and shadows swell and recede like a moonlit tide. They are the O.G. masters of light and decay and debris and are always in the back of my mind when shooting.
Your light is so swoony, always. Do you only shoot with natural light?
Though I like natural light best, it’s not always the best option. So, I try to create a memory bank of light from my travels. What does a shard of light look like when it falls through a tiny window? What color is light in a cathedral? How does light look at high noon on bright summer day? What is the light like just be before sundown? By really looking, I can access light that feels real and authentic. My husband is an amazing photographer and lighting technician and if I am stuck when shooting personal work, I ask him for help. Because we travel together, our references are the same. It’s an easy shorthand that we speak.
What’s inspiring you currently?
I am currently inspired by summer upstate. I love to forage and summer is the peak time. There are not enough hours in the day. Everything from rose petals to milkweed are calling to me, “Pick me. Eat me. Pickle me.”
How do you feel during the creative process?
When I am in the creative process everything else falls away. Hours go by as though I have fallen down the rabbit hole. The creative process for me can be cooking or shooting or brainstorming with friends.
What’s on the horizon in your career?
A lot of collaborations. Good, hard work. Travel and more workshops from our This Is The Wanderlust series.
Photography by Andrea Gentl
Interview and words by Eye Swoon