Kera Wong: Food Photography, Therapy to Recovery
15 May, 2020
Kera Wong is one of Sydney’s most respected food photographers. Taking pictures of food, and posting them on social media is now more than common, for many, it is very much part and parcel of a weekend dining experience. But for Kera, this practice had a deeper, more deliberate purpose. Taking food photos fulfilled an unlikely therapeutic function for a behavioural condition which has for too long been considered taboo; an eating disorder.
“knowing visually what I was consuming gave me a better understanding of my behaviour”
Kera was plagued by an eating disorder from the age of 15 through to 28. She moved from Auckland to Sydney in 2017, and in an effort to better comprehend the condition and its associated behaviours, she “started taking photos of food. It was a way of rehabilitation, as knowing visually what I was consuming gave me a better understanding of my behaviour.” The photo-taking was a strategy to assist Kera through a period of convalescence, but additionally served to reveal a creative talent she was unaware she had, “I started taking high resolution
photos when I received encouragement from the Sydney food community about my work."
“I feel like there is a lot that can be taken from above”
"Today, Kera specialises in a very specific photographic style, referred to as the ‘flatlay’. Fundamentally, the term refers to a ‘top shot’, or a photo taken vertically, from the top down. Kera’s definition is more informed, but more notably, self-adapted, “A flatlay is anything styled on a flat table and designed to be taken from above. It is a piece of content I create to tell the narrative of a venue. I feel like there is a lot that can be taken from above.” But what is today meticulously choreographed and then fastidiously produced, began as a thoughtless act of circumstance. “The first flatlay I ever took was whilst I was still living in New Zealand. I was eating with friends, we were hungover, and had ordered way too much food. I don’t know why, but I got up on the chair and took a photo. It is still one of my favourites. It told such a good narrative of the venue, what kind of day it was and the people I shared that time with. For that reason, flatlays have so much potential.”
The largest flatlay Kera has been involved with featured 134 dishes. Amongst the requirements necessary to capture the desired photo in such a setting, are vision, a significant amount of patience, the ability to coordinate the scene and of course, a ladder. Such a process can take anywhere from 1 to 4 hours to achieve perfect capture, and the challenges brought about by ageing food and fading latte art place increased demands on Kera’s post-editing abilities, and can require her to ‘knit’ together elements or portions of multiple takes. The artistry is undeniable, and so is the requisite of an artistic mind, “I love styling the spreads. I focus on colour and composition. I consider the use of shadows, shapes and lines to lead the eye around the frame in a whimsical way. Keeping these factors in my mind requires a lot of thought and consideration, and leads me to being quite the perfectionist.” However, the variables which define the creative zone of flatlay photography are enabled by some grounding fundamentals. “There are ‘rules’ for sure. Firstly, lighting should be consistent and streaming from the North. Secondly composition; objects need to be placed in a way which leads the eye around the table, ideally top to bottom, left to right or in a ‘golden ratio’ circle.”
“I love the Sydney food scene for its pace, there is always something new"
Kera’s photography has undergone a metamorphosis of purpose. What was initially remedial in nature, phased into the recreational, before turning occupational. But Kera’s love of Sydney food, photography, and any blended variation of the two, means her time behind a camera will never be solely a job. Today, her relationship with food is a healthy and positive one, and she is rid of any factors capable of constraining her enjoyment of Sydney’s rich dining scene, “I love the Sydney food scene for its pace. There is always something new, something trending, but also extremely high quality food coming from great people with passion.” Her cuisine of preference, Japanese. “I can always be convinced to have sushi, but at the same time I cannot say no to a home-cooked steak. I love an eggs benny. I will never get sick of brunch, but it needs to be freshly made”.
Sydney food culture bestowed Kera many things, not least of which was a catalytic means to her eventual recovery from an eating disorder which plagued most of her adult life. “I have fully recovered from it following the beginning of my content creator career. For me, it is what they say, if you keep yourself busy with things you love then nothing else really matters.”
Kera Wong Photography