In the heart of Lewisham, amidst the vibrant culinary tapestry of London, we had the privilege of sitting down with Joshua Swaby, a local food photographer whose lens captures not just the flavours and textures of dishes but the rich, untold stories of the culinary world. As we delved into his journey, it became clear that Joshua's work is about more than just visually enticing food photography; it's a powerful conduit for connecting and elevating the voices of black chefs, traders, and small businesses in a field that is often overlooked. Join us as we explore the remarkable passion and mission that define Joshua Swaby's work, shedding light on the diversity and talent within the world of cuisine.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what drew you to photography? What would you consider your niche?
I’m a photographer and aspiring filmmaker with a deep-rooted interest in food & drink. What was once my initial slogan; ‘Places and plates worth savouring,’ is now more of a personal ethos!
My love for food & drink photography developed during lockdown following a spell of food blogging where I used to share my own recipes and review restaurants through Instagram. My posts were supported with food photography which became quickly popular, so much so that that these businesses began approaching me, asking to use my photos. I began to counter by replying ‘no’ and instead proposed a menu or item shoot and one by one, I started to work with more and more restaurants, chefs, and agencies.
My duty lies in connecting with Black-owned businesses – whether that is chefs, traders, or restaurant and sharing their journey through visual storytelling. Coming from a Jamaican background, my journey has enabled me to galvanise my love and understanding for Jamaican cuisine at all levels of culinary sophistication; from roadside spots to fine dining.
What is it about the Lewisham food market that makes it an interesting subject for your photography?
London is a multicultural city home to millions of people from hundreds of countries. Food is known to bring people together and Lewisham Market demonstrates this clearly through a diverse range of traders and consumables. This provides me with an opportunity to connect with other communities and cultivate relationships through my work.
In your opinion, what makes Lewisham food market unique compared to other markets you may have photographed or visited?
The market's open layout fosters a welcoming atmosphere, encouraging people to interact more freely. Unlike cramped indoor food markets, Lewisham Food Market is situated next to an open green area, providing an ideal spot to relax and savour your market finds on sunny days.
How do you capture the essence and atmosphere of the market through your photographs? Are there any specific techniques or styles you employ?
It all starts with envisioning the perfect shot, even before pressing the shutter button on the camera. My approach involves crafting a narrative through images, skilfully combining light and focus to accentuate the subject matter. Technically, I often opt for low apertures during the shoot, then fine-tune the image through post-production focus-stacking.
Have you identified any favourite traders so far? We’d love to know what you’ve tried and tasted!
- Agua Na Boca UK – I’m just in love with the sweetness and tender texture of the churros. They are something I could eat multiples off!
- Tanio Pizza – I was so intrigued and impressed with the Oxtail Pizza. It wasn’t what I expected owing to the presentation of the oxtail, but it allowed me to appreciate a timely favourite of mine from a different perspective. I’m still waiting to try their collaboration with fellow trader Pat & Pinky’s – I can’t wait!
- Pat & Pinky’s – They have great sauces and chutneys. I’ve been using the Wiri and Wiri sauce with my cooking for the past month or so and still impressed with the results!
What advice would you give to aspiring photographers interested in documenting local markets like the one in Lewisham?
When you visit local markets, keep an open eye and an open mind. Let go of preconceived notions about food and embrace the opportunity to learn. Show a genuine interest in the traders and their products and identify the unique elements you want to convey through your photos. Whether it's candid portraits, capturing the food preparation process, or showcasing the final product in all its glory, focus on telling their story.
How do you engage with the local community and market vendors while photographing? Do you have any tips for building rapport and trust with your subjects?
Before getting involved, I often watch from a distance to gauge customer flow, interactions, and the food and drink preparation. After gaining an understanding, I approach with an open mind, being considerate of other customers waiting. I introduce myself, share my name, briefly explain what I aim to capture, and offer a glimpse of photos I've taken on the day or during previous shoots.
Can you share any upcoming projects or exhibitions related to your photography?
At the moment, I'm immersed in a passion project (untitled) that delves into the authentic food culture of Jamaica. This project is inspired by multiple visits to Jamaica, with a special focus on my recent 6-week stay on this picturesque island that I proudly call home. It will combine short films and photographs showcasing various aspects, from kitchen scenes to interactions with farmers in the fields, hands-on experiences with bakers, and cooking alongside locals in their homes.