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 The New York Times' 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.
The New Potato: What would be your ideal food day?
Todd Selby: "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."
TNP: 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."
TNP: Had you always had an interest in the people behind the food? Why?
"I’ve always had a curiosity. Definitely the food was the first thing. When I was traveling 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."
TNP: 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."
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TNP: 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 intrusive. 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."
TNP: 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."
TNP: 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."
TNP: 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."
TNP: We, as a site, consistently try to blur the lines between food, style and fashion. Does one industry inspire the other for you? Does a shoot with Eric Ripert inspire a sit down with Angelika Taschen, and vice versa?
"I wouldn’t say that, no. It’s more about understanding now that being an artist can apply to so many different things. And there are so many artists in food that are just being appreciated now — and there are so many also of course in fashion and design. So I think that understanding is growing and that respect for food and drink artists [is growing]. There are all different kinds of artists that do what they do and that are passionate and bring their own angle to it."
TNP: Who would you still like to shoot, that you haven’t gotten to yet?
"You know, I’m doing it. I’m going to continue for T magazine every month, so I’m getting to all of them."
TNP: If you could pick any photographer to shoot you in your own home, who would it be?
"That’s a good question. Francois Halard."
TNP: If you could do a shoot at any restaurant around the world, of your choosing, where would it be?
"I already did it. That’s my book. That’s exactly what it is!"
TNP: One you didn’t get to in your book…
"I don’t feel that way. It’s great. I’m lucky that I’m in a position and that I’m still doing it."
TNP: Are there any recent trends in food or fashion photography that you’re just not that into?
"I think some things are getting overly branded. I think that’s especially happening with street food. Everything is so seamed and I feel like that’s a bit of a turnoff. It’s so much with these crazy logos and the t-shirts and bags; every aspect is branded with branded names. It’s a bit unattractive really. I don’t know; I just don’t like it. I do think it’s kind of funny though."
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TNP: What are some favorite NYC spots to eat?
"Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Gowanus [Brooklyn] for pie; Saltie in Williamsburg for sandwiches; Russ and Daughters for all your grocery supplies and your appetizers; O Café for coffee and Brazilian baked goods; Mission Chinese New York on Orchard Street; 1 or 8 for Omakase in Williamsburg; The Smile for their peanut butter and jelly cookies; Blue Bottle for their baked goods, especially their s’mores."
TNP: If you could predict the next big thing in photography, what would it be?
"Sea buckthorn. That’s my big trend. You heard it here first. It’s a nordic berry that grows on a spikey bush in the ocean in Scandinavia — like a citric berry. They don’t have natural lemon there and they want to have a citric note to their food so they use the sea buckthorn. It appears on cover of my book — I think it’s going to take over the world."