How Did You Come Up With That!? E.03: Cheesy-AS
Updated: Sep 21, 2021
Hi friends! And welcome back to another instalment of How Did You Come Up With That? - a series where we walk you through the Art Direction of our shoots.
(The Cheesy-as photo series is at the bottom of the page)
1970s party food was weird, fun, inventive, processed-within-an-inch-of-its-life, frankly batty stuff. An alarming amount of it is foods suspended in gelatine, like this delectable dish:
I like to look at these curious foods. It indulges my appetite for Odd Things. Still, I wouldn't like to eat these dishes. The mere sight of them disagrees with my refined Italian palate...
But - this peculiar cuisine has been a source of inspiration for a while, which you'll have noticed, no doubt, if you've been looking at our work.
To the matter at hand: why did I put spray cheese in a wafer cone and use liquid cheese as cake piping and whipped cream? Several months ago Alex's aunt gave us a groovy fondue set, and I had been thinking of doing a photo with it as the centrepiece. That photo hasn't happened yet, but in researching 1970s cheese-based meals I well and truly fell down the rabbit hole. I was looking at fondue recipes and this old Squeez-A-Picnic ad popped up on Pinterest:
I was mesmerised by the ribbons of cheese. It looked like cake piping to me, and the bottom right image reminded me of Viennetta ice cream. That's when the clouds parted and a voice thundered from the heavens: "Use spray cheese as a savoury dessert."
My first thought was that it could be funny to do a savoury take on a banana split - a Saveloy Split: a bright red sav to replace the banana, mashed potato as ice cream (scooped out with an ice cream scoop to replicate the look), BBQ sauce as chocolate sauce, our very own three bent legs-brand Cheesy-as on top of the mash as whipped cream, and cherry tomatoes to replace cherries.
Being in Australia, I wasn't sure that we could find a spray cheese here, and I didn't want to have to wait for shipping from the U.S. After a little searching, we found that you can buy spray cheese in Sydney, but you have to get it from specialty USA food stores, and it's fairly expensive for what it is. We did a little more googling and found that Kong sells a squeeze cheese treat for dogs, stocked at local pet stores. We were replacing the label anyway, with our own design, so we went for that; and, funnily enough, the Kong spray cheese had the classic lid design of 1970s spray cheeses. In the end, finding the spray cheese can was... cheesy as.
We never intended to use the spray cheese can except as a prop, because of the cost. At $12.00 a pop, buying enough cans for all the photos would cost more than we were willing to spend on processed aerosol cheese. Instead, we would use nacho cheese dip. Eight jars at $2.50 a jar. Hoo-whee! That's a lotta cheese.
For the piping I found a large eight-point piping tip at a kitchenware store - the diameter is similar to what you'd find on a soft-serve machine nozzle, which was going to be important for the cheesy soft serve. It worked great for the cake and saveloy split. But when we were prepping the cone, the nacho cheese wouldn't hold it's shape for more than a second - it was just too runny and slopped over the sides. We tried mixing in flour to stiffen it up, and it worked to an extent, but, with the flour added, the cheese started to lose its gloss. Unacceptable. So we ended up trying the Kong spray cheese, to test if that would fare any better, and it worked perfectly and held its shape really well. It looked fantastic, too, and weird and gross - I fell in love the the shiny, unnatural look. So we went with it.
We went for a red-and-white-striped background as a kitschy nod to 1950s U.S. ice-cream parlors and diners. We thought briefly of using yellow-and-white stripes to echo the cheese, playing off the traditional red-and-white, but decided that red-and-white would give a nicer contrast; the yellow cheese wouldn't have had sufficient separation from the yellow stripes.
The tiered cake was the last idea we had. Initially I wanted to do a photo of something written out with spray cheese in cursive handwriting, but decided that it wouldn't quite hold up against the other two and would lack dimension. I wanted to have the can in the shot, too, so we thought of doing a tall, two-tier cake where we wrote something on the cake instead - the height of the cake would compete against the height of the can. In the end we figured that including the can would affect the symmetry of the image, so we pulled the can and kept the cake.
We weren't about to bake a whole two-tier cake that, once iced, would be inedible - so we used some round flower boxes that we had from an earlier shoot, cut them to size and stuck the two parts together. Then we painted it with brown poster paint; we had two large jars of Vegemite for the frosting, but we didn't know how far that would go, so the brown paint would hide the bright white of the flower boxes in case the Vegemite went on thin, and if we had to we could touch it up in photoshop.
Designing the spray cheese can label was my favourite part of the whole thing - although the can didn't end up making the final cut. The trio of images works better as three deserts, and the can by itself felt lacking. But I would love to do some package design eventually, so it was an opportunity to try it out and play around.
We wanted the packaging to be fun, a little cheeky and a little trashy. We have a fairly broad knowledge of '70s colour palettes and iconic shapes, but we did a little more research into '70s package designs and whipped the label up in photoshop, playing around with a few different looks and fonts until we settled on what you see below.
As for lighting and editing, we wanted this to be stark with high contrast, for a glossy, fake, unreal look, so we shot with undiffused flash, mimicking direct sun, and a bounce on the shadow side to bring up the shadows a little. In photoshop we smoothed the textures and over-sharpened the hell out of the things, trying to make them look as artificial as possible.
And there you have it. Now you too have the know-how to take photos of cheese.
Alex has done another behind-the-scenes video of this shoot which you can watch here: LINK VIDEO
We post a new blog weekly and you can keep updated by following us @threebentlegs as I'm usually promoting our blogs and work over there.
See you in our next one!