A Kinship for Craft | Céline Steen

A Kinship for Craft | Céline Steen

Over the last year, the name Céline Steen has been making its way more and more into my daily life (by 'daily life,' I mean my Instagram feed.) As a cookbook author and self-taught photographer, Céline has a unique ability to capture the perfect natural lighting and showcase her recipes through her unique lens. But it wasn't just her food that caught my attention; it was the perfectly picked handmade wares she chose to present it in. 

It's not often I find someone more obsessed with collecting handmade objects than I am, but one look at Céline's photos serves as a sign that they exist! She even has work made by artisans we know, love, and even carry, like; Notary Ceramics, Elise McLauchlan, and Vitreluxe.

Seemingly placed with ease, each object featured in her work has a presence that demonstrates all the wonder that exists in the world. I love the darker palette and dramatic styling for its ability to hint at a greater story behind the picture. 

What started as a few random interactions on Instagram has evolved into a relationship forged upon a mutual love for handicrafts. I am so grateful for the friendship I’ve gained with Céline and am incredibly excited to give a proper introduction to her work.

Hey Celine! Would you mind telling our readers a bit about how you got into food/ product photography?

Back in 2005, I decided to go vegan. I started a food blog, like almost everyone and their grandmother did at the time. It led to a publisher getting in touch with me to commission a cookbook, and since my blog pictures weren’t the worst (but in hindsight, definitely not the best), they asked me to take the pictures for what eventually led to more cookbooks as well.  

You've published a good amount of Vegan cookbooks, all featuring beautifully crafted works from small makers and well-established brands. What came first, the love for food or the love for craft?

The love for food, mostly baked goods at the time. I didn’t know much about ceramics or styling when I started. So I purchased what I felt were interesting-looking props for kind of cheap. Eventually, I became more aware of the ethical issues that come with mass production, and how much more important handmade goods are in comparison. I became friendly with quite a few makers and realized how appallingly frequent design theft occurs. Small businesses need our support for so many reasons, and we’re rewarded with the stunning, quality work they provide us.

What influences play a role in your photography? How has it changed over the years?

I shoot with natural light only. I am first and foremost influenced by how the weather is on any given day. Thankfully, living in California, we have quite a fair amount of sunshine throughout the year. I hope to say my style has changed and improved over the years. Quite honestly, I cannot look back at most pictures from even a couple of weeks ago without cringing. I am a perfectionist and rarely am entirely happy with my work.  

I gotta ask, how'd you come up with the name &breakfast?

I came up with it years ago when I started a separate site from the baked good-centric one. I wanted something inviting and comfy, like a bed and breakfast. I’ve never been a good sleeper, but I’m fond of food so I just dropped the “bed” part of “bed and breakfast.” Ta-da! The name stuck over the years.

We want to know more about your creative process when setting up your signature still-life shot. Walk us through it. How do you typically go about styling?

I have no formal training in photography or styling, so in all honesty? I just set up the items I want to shoot the way I feel works best. I occasionally draw a mental image of what I want to use and how, but sometimes it’s just a spur of the moment thing. I regularly must tweak it until I finally make it, seeing what works, the movement of the props, how the light works that day, etc. It sometimes takes a mere 5 minutes to get it all done and other times, up to an hour to get there. If you’ve seen my pictures, you might know I almost always pair dried flowers (ahem, hydrangeas), something wooden (often by @elise__mclauchlan or @allisonsamuels), and beautiful ceramics (a few favorites are Notary Ceramics @notaryceramics.home, Nobue Ibaraki @nobueibaraki, Takashi Endoh @t_endoh, Toru Hatta @toru_hatta and many more).

Your commentary and relationship with your cats crack me up! Tell us about the two cuties that make regular appearances on your feed.

We adopted Kiki and Jiji from a neighbor who rescued them from the streets. They were born from a feral mama who eventually got trapped, spayed and released again. Kiki in particular has become quite fond of making appearances in my shoot settings, and I usually let him. Although having to fend him off when food is involved, or delicate ceramics, can get interesting. Recently, he’s started to randomly jump on my back when I’m shooting. Because everyone loves blurry shots! As long as I don’t drop the camera, I’m okay with it.  

What type of other passions and interests do you have beyond cooking, blogging, and photography?

I always need to burn excess energy to function properly mentally, so biking and hiking are big passions of mine. My dog Harriet hates both though. Sigh. 
I’m also always doing research about animal rights and protection. 

We first met each other over Instagram (the algorithm shined brightly on us!) probably because of our mutual friendship with Sarah VanRaden of Notary Ceramics. Still, our relationship has continued to grow through our mutual love and admiration for Japanese craft. Tell me, how did you first get hooked?

It’s been a slow evolution, but I think I can credit Analogue Life (@analogue.life) for first introducing me to the unique and incomparable beauty of Japanese-made goods. Learning about new (to me) artists led me to finding more and more artists that I am completely in awe of. I dream of one day going to Japan to admire the artists at work, and to come back with loaded suitcases of the beauty they create.  

Everyone asks me how I come across the artists I find, especially from abroad, and my answer is usually the same; Instagram. How do you go about finding new artists' work?
Instagram is where I meet all my favorites too! And word of mouth. For all its faults, we can’t quit you, IG.  
I feel super lucky that you've acquired some work from my little shop. Which one's been your favorite thus far?
It’s hard to choose because there is so much I love, but the Sitka whiskey glasses always catch my eye. Hefty with a unique and beautiful shape, I love them so much that I am considering getting the larger size now.  

We live in a society where so much of our identity is surrounded by the things we consume. How do you approach mindful living and sustainability in the context of your work and in your everyday life?

As a ceramics and props damn-near hoarder, I don’t know that I’m necessarily the person to ask. But reusing or recycling all the packaging involved in wrapping the things sent my way is an absolute must. I also don’t have a car, so walking everywhere is a great way to stay active while not polluting too much. 

Think of an object in your home that has the most significance to you. Could you share with us what it is and the memory behind it?

A postcard from my mom. I love it so much and it holds so much meaning that I framed it. I always treasured the written mail she regularly sent my way, but even more so now that she passed. (F*ck cancer.) It’s true what they say, you can’t put a price on memories.  

Providing a platform for small artists is a huge part of my mission with Storied Objects; are there any artists you currently love that you'd like to share with our readers?

Hana Ikushima (@hanaikushima) makes wooden goods that are so smooth and shiny, it’s all the more impressive to think they are made by hand. Neko Co Neko (@linnan_ye_nekoconeko) and her ceramics. I adore the glaze and clay she uses. Iro Iro Things (@enjoyiroirothings). Priscilla makes the most beautiful wooden brushes I have ever seen. She is also extremely kind, and I love everything about her ethos. 

Lastly, where do you see your work heading in the future? Any exciting projects you are working on right now?

I am working on product shots for a few makers and small businesses at the moment, and that’s always exciting to me. As long as I get to shoot on the daily basis, I’m a happy old lass. 

To see more of Céline's works, check out her site &breakfast, or on Instagram (@mmeedamame).

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