After 35 years as a freelance food stylist, Christine Jackson’s artistry is still largely unknown, although it’s seen in ads, packaging, magazines, catalogs, menu boards, billboards and more. The hours of work she spends setting up a shoot for the photographer are rarely acknowledged with a byline, but that’s okay with Jackson. She is not one to seek the spotlight.
Jackson has lived and worked in California, Salt Lake City and the Seattle area, but Adna is where she thrives. It’s conveniently located halfway between jobs in Seattle and Portland and gives her space for a garden on nearly five acres of land.
Jackson’s exposure to food styling came from her first husband, a photographer in California. She started by doing a little styling for the photographer he assisted.
When they moved to Salt Lake City she learned that no one had heard of a food stylist. There she began styling for her husband and other photographers. Business increased when Judy Peck Prindle, a food stylist from Los Angeles, came to Salt Lake City once a month to do food styling for commercials. She hired Jackson as her assistant. “She was my mentor,” Jackson said.
After she divorced, Jackson started freelancing for other photographers and worked part time as a histologic technician, the person who prepares tissue slides for pathologists. Eventually she decided to move to the Northwest. “Most of my family lived here and there was nothing keeping me in Salt Lake City,” she said. Two months later she met her current husband, Dennis.
When her husband got a job with the Centralia School District, they spent three months looking for a home in Lewis County. “When we saw our home and land, we knew it was right for us,” Jackson said. They raised their two youngest children in that home.
The photos spread out on Jackson’s kitchen table look like a who’s who of food companies – snacks and treats from the Wolferman’s gift catalog, packaging for Lundberg, cookbooks from Costco with Table to Table photos in their news sections, a menu from Azteca and pages from ads styled for Pike Place Chowder, Taco Time and Skipper’s. “My work varies,” Jackson said.
Recently as Jackson was driving home from Seattle, she saw a big billboard for Red Wind Casino. “I did this colossal burger for them for their challenge burger and there it was on this huge billboard – my work,” Jackson said.
Sometimes the pictures set up false expectations. “That’s why people get upset with McDonalds when their burger doesn’t look like the ones on the menu billboard,” Jackson said. “Some food stylist spent a day doing that hamburger and putting every little seed where it belongs on the bun and getting the ruffle of the lettuce just right. They can’t do that when they’re producing fast food.”
Sometimes art has to aid reality. “If I’m advertising pie and we want ice cream on it and we don’t want the ice cream to melt while we’re sitting there fudging, then we can use fake ice cream,” Jackson said.
Her recipe for fake ice cream calls for powdered sugar, Crisco and Karo syrup. Some people use mashed potatoes, but Jackson prefers her recipe. “It looks like the real deal.”
Working for perfection in camera shoots can be painstaking – and expensive. “When I was in Los Angeles assisting Judy Peck Prindle on a Burger Chef shoot, we had an error that probably cost someone their job,” Jackson said. “Judy had ordered 12 dozen burger buns to sort through to find non-dented, perfect ones for the shoot. Someone somewhere ordered 12 gross which, when delivered, took up a whole corner of the stage! The real irony is that with those many boxes of buns piled high, once Judy found the perfect ‘hero’ bun, we kept it wrapped in Saran and protected for the two days of the shoot for the beauty shot.”
Jackson has a lot of props and tools she has accumulated over the years to get the look she wants. A mini torch gives a lightly browned surface to dishes such as crème brulee and she often uses a heavy wooden butcher’s block from her kitchen for a background surface.
Jackson is the first to admit her work is winding down. “I’m not promoting myself anymore,” she said. “I still take regular customers that I had before and the random ones that pop up. I love my work and the people I work with. That’s why as long as they keep calling me and asking me to come work, I will work. I just love the creative process.”