Louise Hagger on food photography and storytelling

From her tasteful shots for the Guardian to her irreverent experiments in image-making, Louise Hagger’s food photography is underpinned by memory and emotion. She talks to us about connecting through recipes, secrets of the trade and how Instagram has impacted her practice

“I’ve always been interested in food because my mum’s Chinese, so food is just life. She’ll say ‘are you hungry?’ rather than ‘how are you?’.” For photographer Louise Hagger, food has always been a personal affair. Yet despite growing up surrounded by reams of cookbooks, she never anticipated a career working so closely to food.

Long before she started shooting for the Guardian or Gordon’s Gin, Wagamama or Waitrose, Hagger thought she wanted to go into fine art. However, photography seemed to be a more vocational route so she instead studied a BA in Photographic Arts, creating documentary and still life work that often examined the idea of memories – the connective tissue between her studies and her work today. Following university, she worked in a studio cutting her teeth in the ecommerce world, however shooting high volume at a fast pace left her feeling like a “robot”, so she packed it all in to go travelling.

She began freelancing upon her return, and it was only through assisting on a cookbook shoot that she saw food photography as a viable specialism. “At uni you were a fashion photographer or a documentary artist. They don’t talk about the other facets, like cars or sports or anything like that,” she says. “It was just three years of indulging in your ideas but not actually teaching you how to earn a living.” It’s still a bugbear of hers, particularly when she speaks to photography students nowadays: “It depends on what kind of photography you want to do and what kind of career you want to have, but ultimately they should teach you about how to do basic stuff to do with running a business.” As for the students paying £9,000 a year when they can’t use the equipment or darkrooms due to Covid-19? “They should get a refund.”