Meticulous Argentinian photographer Magali Polverino captures Images that are Devoured with the Eyes in her collection of tasteful photographs for Departures magazine. As writer Kevin Vaughn dives spoon first into his quest to understand "What makes a flan, a flan?" the food and still life photographer based in Buenos Aires, popular for its cafe culture, visually narrates the writer's mission as he "eats the national dessert every day for a month" to better understand the significance of Flan as a dessert in Buenos Aires which is also widely loved across Latin America.
Derived from the Latin name flado meaning flat cake, flan also known as creme caramel is a silky egg based custard dessert made from eggs, sugar, sweetened condensed milk and often flavoured with vanilla. It has a gelatinous yet firm texture which can vary depending on the ratio of ingredients used - particularly eggs. The origins of the creamy dessert trace back to Ancient Rome where chickens were first domesticated for the purpose of harvesting their eggs, and out of a surplus of eggs, the Romans went on to experiment by using new techniques to cook them, in turn birthing the flan. But flan wasn't always a sweet treat, as the Romans originally flavoured their creation with savoury ingredients like eel and other meats. Eventually, a sweeter version of flan was created and flavoured with honey - the only available sweetener to the Romans at the time.
After the rise and fall of the Roman empire, the sweet version of flan remained a favourite with the Spanish people, but the dessert became even sweeter when a sugary caramel sauce was added over top by the Spaniards. This version of flan followed the Spanish to Mexico where again it was loved, and the recipe spread through Latin America where it is still popular today. Mexicans added even more new and exciting sweet ingredients to the flan recipe, and they elevated the dessert with ingredients like chocolate, coffee and a variety of fruits creating a dessert for everyone's tastes.
In Polverino's photoset for Departures, the draping layers of golden caramel and lightly tanned egg based dessert form the basis of the colour palette, supported by analogous colours such as yellow, orange and brown in the form of props and food ingredients. The white crockery, tablecloths and parchment paper serve as a neutral canvas for each flan to steal the limelight. That being said, the white balance through all images pulls warm, transforming everything pure-white to a seemingly natural shade of off white which adds to the ambience of a summer's night drawing to a close (but not before indulging in a glutinous dessert).
Polverino enjoys "light and shadow equally" which is evident in this editorial. The photographer captures both elements in a way that makes the most simplistic of objects visually engaging. For example, she captures light shining through transparent vessels, casting twinkling glares onto the tablecloth, and in the same instance she allows long evening-like shadows to spread out from the objects in her still-life display. Where she could've used a fill light or reflector to almost eliminate the shadows giving a more clinical and structured feel, Polverino's approach to light and shadow works in harmony with the food styling, making for images that feel homely and organic. She captures a perfectly imperfect organised mess, with each staged shot leaving traces of human interference - from a scattered packet of sugar to sticky spoons and half eaten flan. The spread is a celebration of communal eating as well as conversation, something Departures writer Vaughn embraced along his flan tasting journey, and which Argentinians refer to as sobremesa ("upon the table"): the Spanish tradition of relaxing at the table after a meal, leaving room for conversation to be freely had.