A Little Taste of MiNiMiAM’s World with Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle
Humorous, poetic, surprising… This is how food photographers, Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle, describe their tasty close-ups. Featuring model train figurines and every kind of fruit, vegetable, cheese, their MiNiMiAM series shows us the social lives of miniature people caught in everyday situations. While dreaming of sliding down chocolate mousse or skating on whipped cream, MiND had the chance to discover these wonderful photographic adventures and their ability to change people’s points of view.
Can you walk us through your background and how you became talented food photographers?
Akiko: I was born in Japan and then I came to France to continue my Art studies at the age of 23. Actually, it was in Versailles where I met photography for the first time and then I got into the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris -a very famous art school specialized in design and photo sections. Here I met my husband, Pierre, who is two years older than me and was working as a tutor for students. At that point, I didn’t really know which kind of direction I would have taken…
After school I tried everything: fashion, landscapes, portraits… By chance, a friend of mine told me there was a book edition called “Hachette” –one of the biggest French publishers– which was looking for a new photographer to change the old-style image of the “Marabout” edition. He proposed that I should take some test shots for a food section and my past immediately came back to my mind especially to when I was a high school student. At that time, I loved cooking and baking bread and pastries… every time I used to take photos with my father’s camera in order to memorize the structure of what I baked. Afterward I started to create a recipe book with my pictures and some of my favorite recipes, saying to myself: “Why not try food photography?”.
When I showed my tests to the art director, he loved it and we started working together on this project. I was so lucky to start working immediately after school. Now it’s almost 20 years of collaboration with them and 100 cook books made for them. On the other side, Pierre started to develop films for professional photographers, and he learned a lot of things from that. Some years later he finally decided to become a freelancer photographer. At the beginning he wasn’t into food photography at all, so he was kind of influenced by me.
“In Versailles I met photography for the first time”
What does “MiNiMiAM” stand for?
Literally, “MiNi” stands for something small and “MiAM” is the word for “yummy” in French. Let’s say it’s a small yum. Actually, our MiNiMiAM stories started in 2013 when an agency proposed me to recreate a stand for a food exposition in Lyon –a famous gastronomic city in France– called Sirha. Among the stands, there was a company which provides French dairy products like creams, butter, sugar, eggs… they needed food pictures to recreate their stand and they told me to do what I wanted. At first, I thought about making dairy appetizers pictures, but it was a little bit boring, so I thought about making some original pictures with small figurines.
“After the Sirha exposition we decided to keep telling our MiNiMiAM stories”
Where did you get the inspiration for your MiNiMiAM stories?
When I was a child, I used to draw small people on A4 size papers, and I used to enjoy it a lot! My father was a painter and I think I was influenced by his art. I used to stay around him and draw little things. It came very naturally to associate small things with food. When I told Pierre my idea, he said it was quite original and exciting, so we decided to start this project together. It all started from the detailed observation of the food we eat in everyday life. Once we were eating a kiwi when suddenly I was intrigued by its surface –the kiwi peel. To me, it looked very much like grass in the garden. So why don’t we put gardener figurines that cut the grass? In order to do that we need to be at the same height of the figurines, we should look at things very carefully from their point of view. It’s nature that gave us the first inspiration.
We came up with different ideas, but we couldn’t find the appropriate subjects for our mini world. Some days later, we were just walking around the streets in Paris when we passed by a shop window of a train market with small train figures displayed on it. That’s where we got the inspiration from for the protagonists of our MiNiMiAM series. Actually, the figurines we use for our works come from a German company called Preiser . The size of the figures, their expressions, everything was perfect. Thus, we bought them for our project at the Sirha exposition and everyone who passed by our stand loved the pictures! Little by little we got our first assignments and proposals for MiNiMiAM pictures on magazines, journals and exhibitions.
“Why not create stories about small figurines on a world of food?”
How do you attract your viewer’s attention?
Our main objective is to surprise people. We want them to change their perspective and pay more attention to the beauty that surrounds us. I really think there is some beauty in nature. Every fruit, every vegetable easily adapts to your art when you focus on the smallest details. When you’re peeling your apple and you’re giving it the first bite, I suggest you stop and pay attention to the beauty of what you’re eating.
That’s why we decided to have a diptych format for each of our compositions. First, we want to show people the details, inviting them to look differently. Second, as most of the time people don’t understand the story right away, we give them an overview of it.
As a photographer, how do you feel when you project a MiNiMiAM exhibition?
Sometimes we both expose the pictures and the real figurines on some installations. For example, we got involved in a project which wanted to promote dairy products of France. They asked to develop an exhibition on the theme of the milk. Basically, we created a city with milk packs, yogurt jars and many diary products that we painted in white, we assembled them together to create skyscrapers, and we made mountains with fake slices of bread with butter on them. It was really fun!
“Our main goal is to surprise people’s points of view”
Did the Japanese culture affect your art somehow?
Absolutely yes. Japanese people are obsessed with food. We love eating and most of the time we can’t think about anything else. I’ve kind of turn this obsession into art. Japanese people produce many small objects to be used with food. We love miniature things. France is very much about gastronomy as well, and Pierre is a real food lover like me. In our couple everything revolves around eating and cooking…so that’s how food photography came to be our art. Also, Pierre loves cartoons. He’s got a lot of imagination since his childhood and he loves creating stories in his mind. Obviously, this helps a lot for our MiNiMiAM stories.
Once you have selected the story to show, which is the process you follow? Which is the most challenging part?
When we have an idea, we draw it on a piece of paper and write down all the details. Before photo shooting, we look for good ingredients and then we spend lots of time creating the setting. Sometimes it’s a problem when the food is fresh and doesn’t last long. We have to work very quickly because we don’t want to use fake food. It’s quite tricky because when we use the camera flash or other lighting the food color changes very quickly. Another challenging part is placing the figures on the food surface because they usually slide down, get dirty. We also started to remodel our figures giving them new expressions, new colors…it’s kind of a model making. We always tell ourselves that we are not just photographers, we are much more!!
Can you unveil one of your next stories?
One upcoming project is for a French cheese company called Bel which makes “Kiri” cream cheese. They proposed to create an installation for their showroom, and I think we will make something very interesting using their products as a tasting world for our small figures.
"We like to ‘play with food’ making it a real world for our miniature figures”