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Remembering Romulo Yanes Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

26 June 2021

Romulo Yanes, who revolutionized food photography over a four decade career, died earlier this month from peritoneal cancer at his home in Tampa, Fla. He was 62.

Yanes was born in Fomento, Cuba, to a father who was an auto mechanic and a mother who was a seamstress. In the mid-1960s when he was still a boy, the family, which included his sister, immigrated to the United States through the Freedom Flights airlift initiative. Sponsored by an uncle in New Jersey, they settled in Weehawken. N.J. where his younger sister was born.

'I want the dish to be the star.'

In high school he made the honor roll and planned to become a dentist. After taking the Kuder aptitude tests, which showed high scores in the arts, he changed course. He took a photography course during his senior year and enjoyed the deliberate pace of darkroom work whose chemical smells reminded him of an uncle's darkroom in Cuba.

He went on to study photography at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan in the early 1980s. He struggled with street and fashion photography but excelled in studio work where he could deliberate over the composition and lighting.

After graduation he found a job managing a photo studio before Gourmet magazine's art director Irwin Glucker offered him a job as an assistant to Luis Lemus, the magazine's staff photographer. When Lemus died a few month later, Yanes took over the job, photographing a lettuce leaf as his first image.

He held that position until Gourmet folded in 2009, a run of 26 years. His obituary describes how he transformed the publication's approach to food photography:

Yanes was just 24 when he arrived at Gourmet and he soon began an ongoing update to the studio, switching from incandescent lights balanced for tungsten and large format cameras (the previous photographer used a metronome to count 325-second exposures) to strobe lights, Polaroid tests for light exposures and finally digital cameras and a naturally daylit studio.

Yanes introduced realism to the still life food photograph, showing dishes in their pots or being sliced or waiting for the viewer's fork. To appreciate the dishes themselves, he would often eat them himself.

"I want the dish to be the star," Yanes explained. "Everything else is secondary to that."

Ruth Reichl, who edited Gourmet, once asked him to shoot a pomegranate. It became one of the magazine's best-known covers.

"No one romanced food the way he did. He made food sexy and gorgeous. I don’t think anybody has ever done it quite the way he could," she said.

When the publication closed, he instantly became a sought-after freelancer, contributing images to Williams-Sonoma catalogs and 35 publications including Bon Appetit, Martha Stewart Living and the New York Times, in addition to numerous cookbooks.

He even played a small role as a gourmet photographer in the 2001 movie Dinner with Friends.

Yanes is survived by his husband Robert Schaublin-Yanes, his two sisters, Cira Yanes and Ana Yanes, and his nephew Michael Cozzino.

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