Devour City

CIW Q&A: Greg Birman Chats Food, Photos & (More) Food

Scroll through Greg Birman’s Instagram, and you’ll quickly learn: Birman loves food. Birman uses photography to “show the world how I see it”—and with po-boys and pizza, coffee and cocktails—the world as Birman sees it involves picturesque settings, close friends and the type of food that can make you hungry for a second lunch. We talked to Birman about how his approach to photography, his upcoming projects and food, glorious food.

Devour City

With Devour City, Greg Birman hopes to bring “creative visual content” to restaurants.

OK, let’s start at the beginning. It’s pretty clear from your photos that you love food—what’s your relationship to food?

My relationship with food is also how my relationship with photography started. It comes from my upbringing. I grew up in a household that values food, and my appreciation for food and restaurants started early. Back when I was three years old, my mom would take me along for coffee at nice cafes after walks to the park, until I wanted to skip the park and go directly to the cafe.

As I grew into my own, the appreciation I found in the food and in the detail of the food, I wanted to capture that. I always had a creative eye so that’s where I was able to connect food and photography. My photos evolved from trying to capture the texture of the dish to today capturing the atmosphere the food creates.

Would you say, then, that your memories are centered on food?

Absolutely. That’s a good way to put it. I come from a small family, and even though it’s small, it’s kind of spread out. So anytime we meet, it’s always around the table to celebrate.

How do you suggest the amateur Instagrammer approach photographing his or her food?

I think the keys are to figure out your lighting situation and use a lot of natural light. Try not to zoom in on the food too much. Try to show the setting a little bit: the type of plate it’s on, what a piece of the setting looks like, whether it’s in your kitchen or in a restaurant. Usually the cuisine and the decor should all be pretty tightly connected. [It] should be a composition, a combination of all of those things, rather than just trying to show the texture, and the pepper flakes.

You’re trying to bring that type of photography to restaurants through your latest venture, Devour City. What will Devour City provide to restaurants?

[Devour City] is on-demand creative content for restaurants and industry vendors and hospitality. [It’s] mostly geared at independent, boutique brands.

It will be a self-service website where the brand is able to buy a package. They’ll be in a market where Devour has presence and a handpicked photographer [will be] assigned to that brand.

What was the genesis of this idea?

This is something that came out of work that I’m doing [as community manager] for Parce Rum, and it just gave me an idea that more brands could use that kind of content creation. Instagram is such a major part of the brand image these days, and at the same time, the people who manage Instagram for small restaurants are not photographers, nor do they have the time to create and edit and post content. So this is a way for restaurants to access creatives who can do that for them at a really reasonable price and provide a lot more Instagram-specific knowledge than PR firms might have.

Let’s bring this full circle—back to food. What’s your ideal meal?

Fresh-caught fish off the grill…fresh-caught fish and fresh-picked vegetables. It would probably be on a cliff somewhere on the coast of Italy.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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