I’m certain he will hate that I’m saying this, but former chef Marcus Nilsson is kind of like the original Todd Selby of the food photography world. He’s been doing that thing for years–where the natural, peripheral mess of things is part of the photograph, part of story. A few months ago, we were lucky enough to welcome him to Detroit for a story in Food & Wine (out this month) about our humble little block of food- and drink-related businesses. The Slows chef, Brian Perrone, whipped up a bunch of BBQ at Honor & Folly and we shared a big meal at the dining table overlooking the old train station across the street. It’s the best seat in the house. We entertained everyone with funny stories about the old days (all of eight years ago) when we had to drill our apartment doors shut behind us, because there were no locks, and there wasn’t a single working streetlight. Marcus and crew also visited Sugar House and Astro downstairs, and the photos he took of Astro are my favorite, especially Jess Hicks’ almond-polenta cake with lemon (photo below; recipe here). Alison Attenborough was the food stylist on the project, and besides being incredibly charming and witty, I appreciate her subtle, natural approach.
Going into it, I was a little worried about how the block would be represented. Food & Wine can be pretty fancy, and there’s a certain rough-hewn quality to Detroit that usually gets exploited or ignored. I thought perhaps they’d try to gloss over or airbrush away, but everything looks exactly as it should (firemen hanging out with little lattes in front of Astro? Not staged.). There’s an honesty to Marcus’ photographs. He sees what we see–that there’s beauty in the contradiction–and he manages to capture the heart behind the efforts. Below, some photos from the shoot–a few from the magazine and others that didn’t make the cut. (Important note: I urge you to thoroughly cover every square inch of his blog, where he collects all his best travel and food work, ranging from somber chef portraits from Denmark’s famed Geist to a stunning spread of food markets and vendors in Marrakesh.)