The River Cottage Fish Book

The River Cottage Fish Book
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher

Published by Bloomsbury, 2007 (Hardback)
Designed by Lawrence Morton
Photographs by Simon Wheeler

This is an ambitious book that functions as more than a recipe book: it is an encylopaedia of British fish; a book of skills and techniques for preparing and cooking fish; it acts as a vehicle for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaigns to encourage consumers to source and use responsibly-farmed fish; it also further establishes the Fearnley-Whittingstall brand, amplifying his authenticity.

The design of the book helps to make these functions explicit. The authorative tone is estalished by the use of Century Schoolbook, signifying scholarly textbooks but with a certain friendliness and openess suggested by the ‘natural’ ranged left, ragged right setting and also when it used at a larger size such as on the cover. Trade Gothic is used which, with its straightforward, no-nonsense look amplifies this air of informality. The book, with its plethora of photographs appears as a kind of scrapbook giving a sense of spontaneity and authenticity. Readers are invited to engage with the idea of adventure that informs the book through documentary photographs which capture the thrill of fishing at sea. The food photography invites the reader, through the careful placing of food at an angle and in sharp focussed close-up, to imagine preparing food and eating it at the table - this invitation is further amplified through the use of cutlery or utensils which are usually shown entering the photographs at an angle, further inviting the reader to enter the world that the book describes.

Front Cover
The cover shows a full bleed photograph of the authors of the book, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher. One holds a fishing rod and the other a just-caught fish, both are smiling, suggesting pride at the day’s catch. The photograph is tightly cropped and focuses on the authors: beyond them the sea is just visible, a bright and clear sky fills the upper third of the cover. The photograph siginifies a wholesome, healthy outdoor life through signifiers such as the fishing rod and fish; the crisp sunshine; the chunky knit jumpers; the ‘handicraft’ necklace; the wind-tousled hair; the proud smiling faces: all of these elements combine to create the idea that the fish has just been caught by the authors.

The title of the book, set in Century Schoolbook occupies the top third of the cover: the word ‘Fish’ is perhaps ten times larger than the rest of the title, it fills the upper third of the cover; the rest of the title is placed around this word. The title is centred and is printed in a metallic petrol blue ink which also appears on the spine and reverse of the book. The authors’ names and a strapline crediting the photographer appear at the bottom of the cover, centred and set in Trade Gothic, printed in grey. There are no other elements on the cover which is laminated in a high gloss.

The dominant element of the cover is the photograph. Surprisingly, ‘River Cottage’ is not dominant in the cover hierarchy: this maybe reflects the fact that ‘River Cottage’, the cookery programme and brand that originally brought visibility to the author, is now secondary to the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall brand. Fearnley-Whittingstal himself is represented by his image rather than by his name, which, also surprisingly, appears third in the list of cover elements.

Inside Pages
This is a hefty book, 20 cm by 26 cm and, with 610 pages, is 4 cm wide. It is printed in full colour on white coated paper and is set in Century Schoolbook and Trade Gothic. The book is laid out on a two-column grid with symmetrical facing pages; the wider central grid is used for body text, recipes etc while the narrower outside column is used for small photographs and for encyclopaedia-like references to other fish that can be used in each recipe. Body text is set in Century Schoolbook ranged left throughout, with recipe ingredients in two columns, ranged left and set in Trade Gothic. The book is divided into sections, each one opens on a double-page spread: on the right-hand page is justified text at a larger size than the body text and spanning both columns; on the right-hand page, a full bleed photograph. Sub-sections open with a full bleed double-page photograph with white reversed-out text. Body text is generally printed in black whilst titles, sub-titles and pagination etc are printed in the same petrol blue that appears on the cover: Running footers and pagination appear at the bottom, close to the edge of the page and aligned to the edge of the outside column.

Photography plays an important role in this book: nearly all of the recipes are pictured, the majority with full bleed one page photographs. Smaller photographs are also used, placed informally throughout the book, sometimes emphasising the underlying grid, sometimes breaking it. This creates an air of spontaneity, somewhat like a scrapbook, that helps counteract the formality of the choice of body typeface. The dominant colour palette of the photographs is rather cold - largely blues, greys and silvery blacks, signifying perhaps, most people’s idea of the colours of the sea. Food photography throughout the book has a consistency of atmosphere, created in three ways: by a raked angle that gives the reader the impression of sitting at a table with food in front of them; through cold, natural light, suggesting the outdoors; and through the choice of accessories: plain white plates, open-textured white cloths, worn wooden chopping boards and well-used pans.

As well as creating atmosphere, photography is used to further establish the Fearnley-Whittingstall brand: photographs appear throughout the book that show the author not only cooking food and gutting and cleaning fish and, more importantly, catching fish by various means. Like the image on the front cover, several photographs show the authors proudly showing off the day’s catch. This idea of gathering food to eat is at the core of the Fearnley-Whittingstall brand and his authenticity is emphasised by the inclusion of these ‘action’ photos.




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