Cooking with Color

Beacon photographer blends her art with food

By Alison Rooney

Meredith Heuer has a lot of irons in the fire at the moment. An exhibit of the Beacon artist’s photos and watercolors opens at the Matteawan Gallery today (Feb. 10), and on March 6 her photos will be published in Six Basic Cooking Techniques, written by Jennifer Clair and designed by Dan Weise, who are also both based in Beacon.

Meredith Heuer (Photo provided)

The works in Colorfields, her Matteawan exhibit, came about after Heuer (pronounced “hue-er”) became intrigued by how much “the color of the thing, rather than the thing itself” was affecting her, she says. For instance, she prefers to organize her photos by color, not subject.

She decided to pursue a personal investigation of color and settled on, of all things, gelatin to help her do it. “It was a perfect medium because of the way light passes through it,” she says.

Heuer mixed the gelatin in a rectangular Pyrex dish, and the difficulties inherent in removing the wiggly, dissolving matter become the foundation of the photos. She combined clear gelatin with pigments, then chronicled their interaction with the cleaves and splits.

The results became “a vehicle for expressing my inner feelings — I have a real visceral response to the colors — and eliciting an emotional response from the viewer,” Heuer explains. “It’s a difficult model as it is in a constant state of change. Out of the refrigerator, this change is accelerated — it becomes slippery, shrinks and is entirely unruly. It seemed a poor choice, but then it made sense. Each challenge the gelatin presented turned out to be an opportunity to delve into abstract expressions of emotions through color.”

Heuer grew up in Detroit, and when she was in high school, her stepfather, a photo hobbyist, gave her a camera. She went west to study French literature at the University of California at Berkeley, where she worked in a darkroom in the architecture building, which gave her a place for experimentation.

After moving to New York City, she found work as a photo librarian at the School of Visual Arts. Finally, there, she began to pursue photography. Her timing was right. “It was the era of the big budgets” for magazines, “and that made it a time when people were willing to take chances,” she recalls.

Colorfield #13, giclée print, by Meredith Heuer

She traveled the world for Fortune, Travel + Leisure and Gourmet, specializing in travel stories for the latter —  China, Vienna, farms — rather than close-ups of dishes. After nine years in Manhattan, Heuer and her husband, Thomas Wright, a designer, moved to San Francisco for five years. On the day their eldest son, Cleveland, now 13, was born, Wright and his Brooklyn-based partner, Joseph Fratesi, got a call from Dwell, which wanted to feature their AS4 furniture line. A bi-coastal living and working situation ensued, which Heuer calls “messy.”

Heuer, who says she favors “stronger seasons” than San Francisco can muster, suggested they return to the East Coast. They chose Beacon somewhat accidentally after making a pit stop at the Yankee Clipper, then exploring the city more closely. Twelve years later, having roosted with Cleveland, his brother, August, 11, and a passel of chickens, Heuer and Wright say they are happily entrenched. In 2016, Heuer was elected to the city’s school board.

A photo by Meredith Heuer of her son, August

Heuer’s affection for the city was amply reflected in her 2013 Beacon Portrait Project, in which she photographed more than 100 residents, each in his or her own home and in natural light, with each subject recommending the next.

One of the people Heuer met soon after moving to Beacon was Jennifer Clair, the founder of Home Cooking New York. “We met through revolving potlucks,” Heuer recalls. “We’d have lunch and talk about the food.” They also did a show on the community radio station, The Ground. Her love of cooking, Heuer says, originated in high school when she and her brother each had to cook one meal a week for the family. “I’m comfortable taking on any recipe,” she says.

A Meredith Heuer photograph of a Jennifer Clair recipe: casserole-roasted chicken with melted root vegetables

Heuer, who has taken the photographs for four previous books, including At Home in the Hudson Valley, says she and Clair tried to balance the “make it look pretty” approach with the “make it look do-able” aesthetic. “You don’t want to intimidate people with beautiful images that look difficult to do,” she says.

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