Romulo Yanes, whose photographs captured the beauty of food, dies at 62
Romulo Yanes, who during his 26 years as a staff photographer helped define Gourmet magazine’s striking visual identity by capturing the natural beauty of food without relying solely on ornamental accessory embellishments or an elaborate style, passed away June 16 at his home in Tampa, Florida. He was 62 years old.
Her husband, Robert Schaublin-Yanes, said the cause was cancer of the peritoneum.
Prior to the 1980s, when Mr. Yanes (pronounced YAH-ness) arrived at Gourmet, food photography in cookbooks and magazines was characterized by a lifestyle sensibility that emphasized everything but food. herself. The style could be theatrical, lavish props were widely used, and the finish the photographs were considered as compulsory accompaniments to the recipes. Mr. Yanes brought an elegant sense of realism to his craft, and he let his delightful subjects take center stage.
“I want the dish to be the star,” Mr. Yanes told Texas Monthly in 2006. “Everything else is secondary to that.”
With the artistry of a portrait photographer, Mr. Yanes infused an air of refined desirability into stringed roast turkeys, chocolate cakes, cups of melon balls, links of liver sausage and a raw scallop he it presented so perfectly that its plump meat seemed practically edible. . In his studio in the Condé Nast building in Times Square, which adjoined the magazine’s test kitchens, Mr. Yanes photographed dozens of dishes a day. To better understand his subjects, he ate them.
One of his first Gourmet covers featured a trio of martini glasses containing fruity cocktails; he photographed them from a low angle which gave them an almost noble appearance. His image of a speckled jar of pan-fried blackberry jam made the cover of the August 2004 issue, evoking the messy joys of a summer snack. (This issue also featured David Foster Wallace’s flagship essay “Consider the Lobster,” in which he visited the Maine Lobster Festival and explored the morality of shellfish consumption.) For the January 2000 issue, his pictorial photograph of a plate covered with lush pomegranates has become one of Gourmet’s best-known covers. This was typical of the visual signature of the publication under the glowing direction of Ruth Reichl.
“I think my favorite blanket we did was the pomegranate blanket,” Ms. Reichl said in a telephone interview. “I asked him, ‘Can you shoot grenades for me?’ What he came back with stunned me. No one liked the food like they did. He made the food sexy and gorgeous. I don’t think anyone ever did it the way they could.
Gourmet won its first National Magazine Award in 2004 for Overall Excellence, the competition’s highest honor. He won the photography award the following year and again in 2008.
A 2007 profile of Mr. Yanes in the New Jersey newspaper The Record captured him in his element in his studio in the Condé Nast building as he photographed a bowl of ceviche. As his team surrounded him, he stood on a stepladder with his camera facing down on the ceviche. The photo will appear on Gourmet’s table of contents page a few months later.
“Is the towel OK?” Should he be taller? asked an associate art director.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said.
Chopped cilantro was rushed to the scene to decorate the shot.
“You might want a whole piece of cilantro somewhere,” he directed. “Now that looks a bit too hectic.”
In 2017, “Feast for the Eyes: The Story of Food in Photography” by Susan Bright, published by Aperture, placed Mr. Yanes’ contributions to food photography in historical context.
“Yanes’ photographs pay close attention to the textures of the food and have a sense of suspense – the food is about to be eaten or is being prepared: a piece of the cake is missing, the food is in the pan. or a fork on the plate, ”Ms. Bright wrote. “Everything looks delicious, but not out of reach, with a realism that touches the eyes, mouth, brain and stomach.”
“With the photographs of Yanes,” she continued, “we can consume the food with our eyes and be completely full.”
Romulo Abraham Yanes was born on February 17, 1959 in Fomento, Cuba. His father, Abraham, was a car mechanic. Her mother, Caridad (Nieblas) Yanes, was a seamstress.
When Romulo was 8, his family left Cuba through Freedom Flights, an airlift initiative that brought Cubans to the United States, and they eventually settled in Weehawken, NJ. He spent his adult life trying to replicate his mother’s ropa vieja and custard recipes.
He took a high school photography class and found joy in the slow creative process that takes place in a darkroom. In the early 1980s, he studied photography at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, and after graduating, he landed a position as a photo studio director.
He quickly meets Irwin Glusker, artistic director of Gourmet, who invites him to work as an assistant for Luis Lemus, the magazine’s photographer. Mr. Yanes took the job; when Mr. Lemus passed away a few months later, Mr. Yanes took his place. His first image for Gourmet was a lettuce leaf.
Besides her husband, Mr. Schaublin-Yanes, Mr. Yanes is survived by two sisters, Cira and Ana Yanes.
After Gourmet closed in 2009, Mr. Yanes turned to a busy freelance career, shooting for clients like Williams-Sonoma and the New York Times and magazines like Bon Appétit. He has also illustrated many cookbooks. In 1998 he worked on “Cooking for Madam: Recipes and Reminiscences From the Home of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis”, and in 2000 he contributed to the photography of “An Invitation to the White House” by Hillary Clinton.
Over time, Mr. Yanes has witnessed the democratization of food photography.
Today, with a steady hand and a sleek Instagram filter, anyone can become a food photographer. But above all he shrugged his shoulders. He took food seriously at a time when Americans were just starting to think differently about their food. The two National Magazine Awards from Gourmet for photography bear witness to this.
Richard Ferretti, who became Gourmet’s Creative Director in 2003, recalled the suspense that ensued whenever the magazine learned he was a finalist for the award, finding himself competing with titles such as GQ, W, New York and National Geographic.
“Fashion photography and photojournalism have always been the most recognized,” Ferretti said in a telephone interview. “This is where you had all the great and famous photographers. But then food photography changed and it became relevant. “
“These posts were probably like ‘How can we compete with a food magazine?’” He continued. “We broke a barrier by winning. And suddenly Romulo was one of those photographers.