As part of our community series on food + photography, we’re honored to profile Joann Pai (@sliceofpai), whose elegant, cinematic food and travel photography is steeped in context, history, and a deep reverence for her subjects—whether they be aperitifs or alpacas (see below).
Name: Joann Pai
Hometown: Vancouver, Canada (currently living in Paris, France)
Most recent project you worked on: Photographing a book on Parisian women who are changing the city, by author Lindsay Tramuta.
Go-to gear: the Bowery bag in Antique Cognac, Sony A7RII camera, f2.8 24-70mm.
Describe your aesthetic in five words or less: Capturing story around food cultures.
“I first picked up a camera…” I’ve always been interested in taking photos, but started taking food photography seriously around 8 years ago. I had taken a sabbatical from work and spent 3 months in Paris. During my stay, I found myself drawn to capturing the food culture, rather than the Eiffel Tower. I loved visiting local markets / producers and styling photos in my apartment. After returning from that trip, I continued doing it. At first, it was a creative outlet for me, then I couldn’t picture doing anything else and slowly made the career transition.
Joann carries the Clifton backpack in Antique Cognac
How (and why) did you start down your current career path? I started by photographing at home and sharing them on Instagram. One day, a business owner in Vancouver asked me to photograph her products. After doing that first job, I knew it was what I wanted to do.
How did you learn your craft? I learned mostly via doing! I was lucky to have so many resources (blogs, YouTube, Instagram, Creative Live) and fellow photographers that helped the learning process.
Biggest creative influences: I was lucky enough to have a few photographer friends who acted as mentors to me. Maurice Li, Linda Lomelino, Aran Goyoaga to name a few. Other than that, much of my inspiration comes from studying not just food photography, but other types of art form.
A peer you most admire and why: My friend Jackie Kai Ellis, whom I consider as my big sister. I admire her courage and her kind spirit
Your favorite photo you’ve taken this year, and the story behind it: This quirky photo of an alpaca. We were visiting a gin distillery in Germany and they had alpacas on the property. This little guy just had the best expressions.
One piece of advice that stuck with you: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.
Advice you would give to someone looking to get into food photography: Eat before photoshoots.
One thing most people wouldn’t expect about you? I can eat a lot for someone my size!
Mistake you’ve learned from: I’ve made so many mistakes on the way but each one has shaped who I am. It’s hard to pick just one!
Biggest challenge: For me it’s always having the confidence in my work.
Work you are most proud of: Recently, I photographed a gastronomic hotel in south Tyrol. I was proud of the results mostly because I got to work with a very passionate brother and sister team. It was just such a pleasure and inspiration for me.
Dream project: To partner with a camera company and teach photography workshops to underprivileged kids in the city. Having photography in my life has opened up my world and taught me the importance of our imagination.
Food you can’t live without: Noodles.
Dish you cook for yourself the most: Noodles!
Hidden talent: I make ceramics from time to time.
Biggest kitchen disaster: I’ve had my share of burning things but no major disasters, yet!
Bucket list restaurant: El Celler de Can Roca in Spain.