Photographers Turn Childhood Imagination Into International Success

portrait air france

As a kid, I turned every meal into a movie. Broccoli and salad became a forest that my main character had to slash his way through to get to mountain of mash potatoes — where he would eventually find his helicopter waiting. In the morning, Cheerios were flotation devices scattered from the “sinking ship,” which most people would call a large chunk of banana. Unfortunately, most of us later abandon that childish capacity for creating an imaginative world at any scale. Commercial photographers Pierre Javelle and Akiko Ida are an exception. They are are the artists behind MINIMIAM — a macro photography series inspired by their childhoods, using food to create the backdrops for playful scenes acted out by figurines.

The project, which has caught the eye of art collectors internationally, is 12 years and one marriage in the making. To find out how this creative couple continues to engage and inspire, we decided to ask them directly.


MINIMIAM is a simple, yet intricate idea. How did you come up with it? What was the very first shoot for MINIMIAM ?

At first, we wanted to create  food photography out of ordinary. In 2002, a big industrial food ingredient company asked us to create a series of food pics using their products. Since they were very open for the style of images, we looked for the new ideas, and the idea of using these small people in the food world to tell their stories came quite naturally. Why these small people and why these macro photography? The answers are in our individual childhoods: we noticed that each of us  has been attracted by the thumbnail since a young age. Pierre kept the memory of small Chinese statues in a flower pot that were at his grand mother’s house. He was fascinated by the composition of colorful pebble and the small bridge. The surrounding plant and flowers created a mind-blowing landscape that impressed him very much. Akiko, almost at the same time, 13 hours by plane away in Japan, carefully drew the adventures of small characters (such as the boogers) like comic strips. She was also very greedy, and she imagined breads of all kinds. She photographed them and then put them in an album. A few years ago, I found in a carton at her childhood home in Japan — a small box with all kinds of pastries made in miniature that she’d drawn up while she was still very small.

What kind of gear do you need to make these shots happen? Does it vary dramatically between shots?
Our gear is rather simple. We use a Hasselblad with 150mm and 80mm lenses and a few strobes.
What has MINIMIAM  taught you about photography? How has shooting at that scale changed or improved your commercial/professional work?
They teach us to watch more carefully what we eat, or even what we don’t eat – all these foods surrounding us in everyday life.

They all have life and they hide incredibly surprising details and beauty that we miss because we don’t pay enough attention!

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What sort of lighting do you use when shooting MINIMIAM ? How does light move or appear differently at that scale?
Just one or two typical strobes.

How long does it typically take to set up and shoot one of these shots?
It takes between a half or full day to prepare the figures and decoration, the same for the shots.

What’s been the hardest landscape to set up and shoot?

“Les intrus,” in the war series — where we shot the real snails exploring on the fresh salads and soldiers were positioned on salads… But every time the snails moved, the soldiers just fell down!

Also the snails were not quite obeying, we’re obliged to shoot so many times until they come at the very good place for the image!

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What’s the key to keeping up on an ongoing project like this? I mean, MINIMIAM  is already 12 years in the making! + How do you keep coming up with creative concepts 12 years later?

We don’t know. The ideas just comes naturally in everyday life. We don’t need to sit down and try to find an idea. There’s still a big list of ideas in our notebooks which we haven’t photographed yet!

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Do you have any suggestions for photographers wanting to experiment on small scales (or large scales)? — how to begin concepting that kind of project.

Listen to your imagination. It will take you places.

Do you have any other projects we should know about? Exhibits on the horizon? Where can we find out more about both of you?

We’ll exhibit our big installation (landscape around dairy products) with small figures in next International Agricultural Salon in Paris in February.
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Topher Kelly is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor at CreativeLive. Follow Topher on Twitter@Topher_LIVE.