Memories of a photo shoot with Julia Child
Editor's Note: The Museum recently marked Julia Child’s Centennial with a special display of her kitchen. This limited engagement (through Labor Day) offers a sneak peek at a new exhibition "FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000," which opens November 20. There visitors are greeted by an image of Julia smiling at them. This photo was taken in her house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1975. From Julia Child’s Kitchen was about to be published, and a cover photo for the book was needed. This image, her favorite from the shoot, is not on the cover of the book. Here is the story of what happened, in the words of the photographer Albie Walton.
When Julia Child said, "Good heavens, Albie, you ate everything after you photographed it; you must have gained 30 pounds!" it was 1975 and we had been working together for many weeks on her favorite book, From Julia Child’s Kitchen.
All of the inside, how-to, pictures were finished and approved, and I was taking the picture for the front cover of the book in Julia’s kitchen at her Cambridge, Massachusetts, home.
"Well, Albie, what are we going to do? Do you want me in front of my stove? Making an omelet? Standing with my arms folded? Cutting up a chicken?"
"Actually, Julia, I want you to crack an egg, and as it drops into the bowl, I’ll freeze it in midair with my strobe unit."
"Oh, Albie, I don’t want to do that. It’s so commercial."
"Julia, the whole book is commercial. You need a book cover that makes people want to reach for your book as soon as they see it. Look, let’s do it your way: one with you showing off an omelet in a skillet, one with your arms folded, and another with you cutting up a chicken. Then let me do a couple shots of you breaking the egg that I want to freeze in midair. But you’ve got to promise me, Julia, you'll give me that big Julia Child smile when we do my egg pictures. Your editor, Judith Jones, and the Alfred Knopf art department are going to make the final decision anyway."
We took all of her poses first, and then ended up shooting my egg picture. The film was processed the next day. "Julia, I've got 'em, and they look great!" "Albie, I can hardly wait to see them. Come over right now."
"They’re beautiful, especially the one of me with my arms folded. That's my favorite, and I want it to be the one used for the book cover. Your egg photo came out well too, but I like the other one better."
All the images were mailed to Judith Jones at Knopf, the publishing house, and in a couple of days I called her about 10 AM. "Judith, did you receive the transparencies? The best one, in my opinion, is the one of Julia with the egg frozen in midair. Why are you laughing?"
"Albie, Julia beat you by 30 minutes! She called at 9:30 and said, 'The best one of me is the one with my arms folded.' She liked all of them, but thought the one of the dropping egg was 'too commercial.' You two are like little kids arguing over who gets the best toy."
After it was published, Julia gave me a copy of From Julia Child's Kitchen signed by both Julia and her husband, Paul: "To Albie Walton—who has put this book on the map with his great egg photo and all his 'how-to' masterpieces. Affectionate Thanks — Julia Child, Paul Child." And I was happy that Knopf selected my egg photo for the book's cover.
But as it turns out, Julia did get her way. For the reopening of Julia Child’s Kitchen at the Smithsonian, the picture she wanted on the book cover will appear on the wall opposite the kitchen, as her favorite picture faces her beloved kitchen.
Bon Appetite, Julia!
P.S. And Julia, I've lost all that weight.
Produced with permission from the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts. © Albie Walton 1975 – All Rights Reserved. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now you can have Julia's favorite photo, also, as it is the exhibition poster available for sale exclusively in the main store of our museum. Proceeds from the sales of the poster benefit the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.