Helga Stentzel and her creative food photography
Visual artist and storyteller Helga Stentzel always see the beauty in everything. She reckons it's because she grew up in Russia amongst a thriving culture of DIY creativity. We chat with her about her creative food photography, motherhood and striking the balance between clients and creativity.
You were born in Russia. How long did you live there for?
I left Russia when I was nineteen years old. Russian is my mother-tongue, and even though I’ve lived in three different countries since I left, I consider myself Russian.
What influence has growing up in Russia had on your creativity?
Huge influence! When I was little, the choice of everyday essentials in Russia was so poor that people were making a lot of stuff themselves. Clothes, furniture, musical instruments, even small electrical appliances—everyone was very much into DIY when I was growing up. And seeing people making something cool from nothing had a great impact on my creativity, of course.
What kind of childhood did you have?
I lived in a nine-storey apartment block in Omsk, a big industrial city in Siberia, and I used to spend summers with my grandparents in their village. I learnt so much from them! Except milking a cow. That I’ve never mastered.
Where do you live now?
I live in London with my husband, Kirill, and our two boys, Misha (10) and Timmy (6).
What is your creative philosophy?
I’m a big fan of boredom. Nothing helps creativity more than staring at a slice of bread while waiting for a meal in a restaurant.
When did you first realise you had a knack for making boring objects fun?
Does making a pair of armchairs from my mum’s sanitary pads count? They looked absolutely fabulous in my doll house!
Describe your kids.
Creative, kind, smart, mischievous and very opinionated.
How do your kids influence your creativity?
I love drawing with my little one! He’s so inventive with the materials he chooses—it fascinates me! The elder is now my favourite critic. He has an eye for detail. Whenever I need help with a project, he’s there for me to say what he likes and what he’d change to make it better. I love hearing his feedback—it’s always spot on.
What do you make of motherhood?
It’s an experience nothing can prepare you for. Exhilarating, tiring, empowering, disorienting, rewarding—all at the same time. And someone always steals your body lotion to make more slime.
Can you share some fun things you’ve tried on your kids?
I once added green colouring to a bottle of milk and told my boys that all milk is initially green (cows eat grass, and the grass is green, so therefore milk is green too). I further explained that milk is then bleached at factories, and my children totally believed it.
You used to be an art director. How did this role help with what you’re doing now?
Once an art director, always an art director! It’s now part of my DNA.
How would you describe what you do now?
I’m an artist and content creator. I love working with food and everyday objects and have lovely clients who are brave and progressive in what they do on social media. Most of the photographs I create never leave the digital world, but there are always a few prints available in my online shop for those who would like to brighten up their real, offline walls.
Talk us through the toast. Where did these characters come from?
I first gathered all the basic ingredients that could go on a toast and asked myself what else they could possibly be. Sweetcorn, for example, looks a lot like a lightbulb. But it also looks like a tooth. So here you go—there’s gotta be a monster with a scary smile.
Similarly, sliced cucumber reminded me of dogs’ ears, and bright orange carrots looked too much like a fox to become anything different!
Who or what inspires you?
Books, museums, films and social media, of course. I love following artists on Instagram and watching their stories. I think we’re living in unique times, where we can connect with amazing people online and learn about their real life—with its highs and lows. It’s fascinating!
Can you walk past a boring object and not make it into something fun?
Only if my mind is preoccupied with another boring object. Being creative and making money out of it can be tough.
How do you strike the balance?
To me it’s all about being helpful and doing my best. I select my projects very carefully and only work with businesses that I think would benefit from my work. If I feel I can’t do anything exciting for the brand, I try to recommend them an artist who would be a better match. And I love this approach! It means that people I end up working with often become my regular clients, and it’s super fun and rewarding to see my content helping them get new followers and customers.