Let’s get one thing straight – Mark Roper and Deborah Kaloper are not together. While it’s true that Mark’s wife is also called Deb, this pair is a different kind of couple, also characterised by cooperation and compromise.
She’s a psychology graduate turned chef from California whose eye for detail led her to food styling. He’s a photographer from the UK who moved to Australia in 1999. Both got their Aussie break from Danish photographer Mikkel Vang, but they’ve been working together for so long, they don’t even remember the first shoot they did together.
“It was like 10 years ago,” says Roper. “Maybe Tupperware?”
“Nah, it was before that,” Kaloper shoots back.
“Was it delicious?”
“Was it a cookbook?”
“I really don’t know!”
“Vogue Entertaining + Travel,” decides Roper. “I’m sure that’s the first shoot we worked together on. It was a food shoot, I’m sure. You can quote us on that because it doesn’t exist anymore so no one can get in trouble.”
Roper’s a little cheeky like that, but Kaloper is used to it. Ask her how long it’s been since she started making plates pretty and she’ll estimate 13 years. Ask Roper how long he’s been in the photography game and he’ll add a year to Kaloper’s answer, just for a laugh.
“Mark is probably the nicest in the business,” admits Kaloper. “Everyone’s like ‘Oh, Mark Roper, the nicest guy in the entire world – except when he asked me if I’d taken my maca powder”. “If you took your what?” says Roper. “My maca powder! I’d been banging on about how I’d been taking maca powder and how it was so good and the next day I came in and I was really grumpy, and you were like, ‘Have you taken your maca today?’”
You only need to watch the pair in action for 10 minutes to realise that the secret to their success is having a good time. They take their work seriously, but not themselves. Their joking around creates trust that doesn’t always exist between stylist and photographer; styling and shooting becomes teamwork, as opposed to individual jobs.
“There are stylists who are very much, ‘Don’t touch my stuff, I’m doing it’, but we have a conversation about what’s working,” says Kaloper. “Others get very precious about their roles, but sometimes you can’t see clearly anymore at the end of a big day. We have that nice relationship where we can bounce off each other.”
“And I think that comes across in the work,” adds Roper. “You can always tell when something is a bit forced, but for us it just sort of naturally happens.”
But shooting The Broadsheet Melbourne Cookbook was a different kind of job. For around a month the duo visited up to five restaurants a day, shooting and styling 80 recipes on site to capture the buzz and atmosphere of each venue.
“The hard thing is that restaurants are super busy. There are people everywhere, and the best light is usually by a window and there’s usually someone sitting there,” says Roper. “An owner doesn’t want someone interacting with their customers even though they’re already committed to the book. Most of them were really into it, but you still feel a bit bad if someone’s having their breakfast and I’m looking through the camera with my arse in their face.”
Kaloper had a different problem. Chefs would get excited at the prospect of a photo shoot and add fresh ingredients that stood out to them at the market that morning. But having tested all the recipes, she was able to pick out what wasn’t part of the original.
“Sometimes we just had to shoot what was in front of us and change the recipe. It was quite a different job because I wasn’t bringing any props with me and usually I bring boxes and boxes of props to a shoot,” says Kaloper.
Working as one, Roper and Kaloper are responsible for a cookbook that not only reflects each restaurant, bar and cafe in the book, but the energy and diversity of Melbourne dining.
“You find someone who you share an aesthetic with, and that immediately makes it easy. We both follow a brief as well, and I think you just have to get on. That’s the main thing,” says Roper.
“At the end of the day we both want the same thing: a beautiful shot and an end result we’re happy with,” adds Kaloper. “We just try to get there and have a good time in between.”
Order The Broadsheet Cookbook at broadsheetcookbook.com.au.
(This piece was shot at The Establishment Studios.)