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Geraldene Holt

Patron of the Oxford Cultural Collective, food writer and Chair of the Jane Grigson Trust

Mark Benham – Winter Barbeque


Geraldene Holt reflects on Winter Barbeque by Mark Benham

This photo speaks of the pleasure and happiness shared in the timeless activity of cooking over a wood fire at night. Five children and four adults, plus the photographer, are gathered around a metal fire pit. The joy and contentment of the event is evident and infectious – just gazing at the photo evokes memories of so many evenings like this.

Lit only by the flames of the fire the photograph has a Rembrandt quality – his painting The Night Watchman comes to mind – with everyone’s face illuminated by a single source. And the sombre colours – black, grey, and dull orange – of their warm clothing reinforce this impression.

The rapt attention of the children to the fire makes the photograph particularly powerful, and I’m struck by how their faces record their individual thoughts and emotions. Everyone sits patiently, awaiting the food to be cooked in the heat of the fire. The adult on the left is preparing the food but, though it looks like small pieces of chicken threaded on to long metal skewers, it’s not immediately recognisable.

The ageless appeal of fire suffuses this beautiful photograph with a feeling of well-being for all present. The cooking is yet to take place. At this moment it is the comfort of the fire and the companionship of a family that holds everyone’s attention. Moreover, the photo reveals that a family celebration need not require a table groaning with elaborate dishes that take days to prepare. Instead this is a welcome reminder that a simple alfresco meal without plates or cutlery can be as enjoyably unforgettable as a more elaborate occasion.



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