Jill Burrow is an expert in al fresco dining. From picnics at golden hour to underwater dinner parties and dishes set in jelly, the work of this American photographer and set designer reveals the creative potential in playing with our food.
Working with wine glasses, fresh fruit and natural light, Jill is known for her poetic still lifes that add a surreal touch to everyday foods and their rituals. In her whimsical world, baguette is baked on the washing line and sustainable fashion means wearing citrus.
After months of her juggling art projects and family life during the pandemic, we caught up with Jill to talk creative fulfilment and her dream collaboration.
Could you tell us about your creative background and how you became a set designer/photographer?
I actually started my creative journey with music. I went to college for cello and voice and then I became a ceramicist and textile designer. That was when I really started to come into my creativity. I decided to shoot an editorial with my partner, who is a photographer and videographer, to showcase a few clothing items I had just released. I styled the shoot and designed the set: from then on I started to really gain energy and focus for designing through a lens.
How would you describe your creative process? We’d love to hear about your journey from initial idea and set design, through to photography and editing.
Oh man, my process seems to be constantly evolving! As I grow as an artist, my process stretches and grows. Most of the time my creative process starts with an idea that comes organically. I see a flower or a pattern in the trees and I think of how I can transform it so it makes sense in an alternate reality. I then focus on making my creative ideas into a harmony that can really showcase a product or brand. Oftentimes if my idea is one that stretches me creatively, I’ll spend time developing the concept so it works logistically and compositionally. Then comes photographing, and it’s always a great idea to have an extra pair of eyes that you can trust to help you see where adjustments and improvements can be made! Editing is the last bit and I usually split edits with my partner – we’ve found that during projects it’s vital to balance our time with parenting our two sons.
As a set designer and photographer, you have a high degree of creative control over how your vision is executed. How important is this for you?
It’s always been hugely important for me to have creative control over my projects, but I find myself growing out of that mentality. I think that when I have people around me who are creative and intuitive, it can really elevate my ideas and help me get out of my comfort zone. It’s also been amazing getting to work with other creatives who are passionate about their products – passion is infectious!
We’ve noticed jelly, ice and fresh fruit are preferred props in your repertoire of objects! What are your favourite materials to work with?
Ooh, I’d have to say that food is probably my favourite medium this season! It is so full of energy and life, diverse, colourful, sensual… all things that invoke romance in an artwork.
The lighting in your shots is always perfect! Do you have a favourite time of day to shoot when you’re working with natural light?
My favourite time of day is definitely when the sun is approaching the horizon. I feel that the sun, one hour from the horizon, is what dreams are made of.
Your work is whimsical and serene, transporting us to a mad hatter’s tea party or endless summer holiday. How did you develop such a captivating style?
Thank you, that is so kind. I think I’ve always had a knack for sensationalizing life, ever since I was little. But I don’t think my creativity was ever fully realised until I started designing and photographing. I felt like my world had opened up completely. I have never felt as fulfilled in my creative journey as I do now. I think magical things happen when people follow their gift.
As both a mother and a creative, how have you faced the unique challenges presented by the pandemic?
Actually, my partner and I have been splitting up work and being with our two boys for quite some time now. It’s always been a challenge, financially, to dive into childcare. But the pandemic has definitely amplified everything. Not having any time to ourselves has really stretched us, but it’s also been a tool for realising how much more I’m capable of. Even though it’s more difficult now to balance work and family life, I’ve enjoyed being with my kids more.
You’ve worked for some big brands – including Refinery29 and Madewell – but what would be your dream collaboration?
Madewell and Refinery29 were total dreams! Jacquemus would be a dream collab! The list would go on forever honestly, there are so many amazingly talented and creative souls out there!