The New Potato

Todd Selby - credit Hadassa Haack

Todd Selby

The Selby

THE NEW ICONS

Todd Selby is king when it comes to visual storytelling. His renowned photography project – The Selby – provides an inside look into creative individuals in their personal spaces. Selby has an eye when it comes to detail. His style quickly became addictive on the worldwide web as brands ranging from Nike to Louis Vuitton quickly began asking to collaborate. Now, Selby also works with New York Time’s T Magazine to do Edible Selby – a project in which he photographs the most talented and interesting people in the world of food. Selby seems to be an artist after our own hearts, and in reality he’s quite the foodie. So between photo shoots with Eric Ripert and Pamela Love, the tables were finally turned on The Selby. We sat down with this artist for an inside look.

What would be your ideal food day?

It would be a day grocery shopping in New York City, going to all my favorite places and picking my favorite stuff. I travel a lot, and I’ll be gone for a couple weeks, so the first thing I like to do when I get back is go to the farmers market. Go to Russ and Daughters, get smoked trout, caviar cream cheese, french trout roe and some Roberta’s bread. It would basically be to hit all the best spots and get my cooking on.

What made you start Edible Selby? Did T Magazine find you, or Vice versa?

It started as a book project, so I was looking for a follow up to my first book. But for the second book, rather than a sequel to the first, I wanted to expand what I was doing. I wanted to take The Selby and put it into a whole new world. So you know, food has always been my biggest passion. And I was talking to Sally Singer about that and about the fact that I had a food book deal, so she said ‘Why don’t you make it a column’ for T Magazine?’ So I started working for Sally right away. Ever since Sally re-launched T magazine, I’ve had a column in every issue.

Had you always had an interest in the people behind the food? Why?

I’ve always had a curiousity. Definitely the food was the first thing. When I was travelling and working all over the world, my first thought was always: where are we going for lunch, where for dinner, where for dessert. It’s always been my thing.

What’s different about the process of shooting for Edible Selby vs. focusing on peoples’ living spaces? Do you approach the two differently?

Basically the food is just so much more difficult, because the homes are really straight-forward. I’d be interested in a person’s home and it would be a done deal just to go shoot it. And it’s a pretty simple situation to set up. But food is so much more complicated. First of all, food people are so hard to get a hold of, as I’m sure you know. They’re not in front of their computers all day – they’re out making food and doing what they do. Also it’s very nebulous in terms of who I would shoot – it either seems right or it doesn’t. It’s much more instinctual.

What do you find to be the difference between a photo shoot at a generic location vs. in someone’s personal space? What is it that’s so special about someone’s personal space?

Before I started my website, I was a portrait photographer for magazines and ads. When I got jobs, I’d shoot random celebrities in restaurants or hotels, and I would find it so boring. By taking those pictures and looking at those pictures, you basically learn nothing about the person beyond that. All you really see is what they look like. I was always interested in storytelling through my photos – it was always about visual storytelling. So I became insistent upon shooting in peoples’ spaces.

When it comes to chefs and restaurateurs, do you have a different approach when shooting them in their home vs. their kitchens?

No. In either situation you’re in their territory, so you approach it from a respectful point of view. Because you’re in their personal space, their home, you have to watch yourself and where you put your things. Non-interference; that’s what I try to practice.

What are some of the very first things that catch your eye when coming into a space to shoot?

The first thing I do is ask for a tour; I ask for the people to show me around. It’s important because they show you the areas they’re comfortable with you being in – and you can tell where they’re not comfortable with you being, so this way you’re not being intrustive. Then I just see how things work. What catches my eye are the details. I’m not very architecturally driven; personal details, personal touches and collections are what really interests me. So that’s what I’m always looking for.

So you think that those columns really speak to someone’s character?

Yes. I’ve always been interested in people that are collectors. In a way, I collect collectors. It’s quite interesting to find out what people collect and why they do. I find it really interesting.

What’s the trick to making your subjects feel so comfortable?

First is experience. I’ve been doing this full time for twelve years, so just being confident and having experience – you’re not nervous. The second thing is to go by yourself. The worst thing you can do is show up with a big crew when you’re doing these reportages, because it totally changes the atmosphere. It’s more interesting to keep it more intimate and just to be respectful and not pushy.

When you started The Selby, you were inundated by requests around the world for people who wanted their homes featured on the site. Why do you think that is? Does everyone have a story they’re hoping to tell?

I think it comes from a lot of places. Now I get it with food people too and restaurants and artisans; I think people are proud of what they do and they like it and want to be on it. So that’s cool.

Why do you make your accompanying Q&A’s handwritten?

Because I’m a terrible writer, but I still wanted a different dimension to it, rather than just the photos. It would be so painful for me to be worrying about the writing when I was shooting. It was when I was talking with Leslie Arfin in her house – Leslie’s a writer, she wrote the intro to my first book and she’s also a co-writer on Girls [the HBO show]. I asked her about the writing process and said that I wanted writing on the site. She said something like ‘Why don’t you just sit there and do questionnaires with the people you shoot?’ So it came very naturally from an idea that she had.

You know, I’m always looking to improve what I do. Some people don’t notice them (the questionnaires) because they’re not that highlighted. But that section has been so great, because if you’re interested in that person, I think you learn a lot about them.

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