When Nathan Myhrvold was 12, he bought his first camera, a Zeiss Contax II, found at a Salvation Army in Seattle. He painted his bathroom black, developed his own photographs, and gradually upgraded equipment through the years.
“As a general rule people discard most of their childhood interests as they grow up,” he writes, but “I am one of the exceptions to that rule.” There are many exceptional things to the life of Myhrvold. Just two years after he bought his first camera, Myhrvold began college at age 14. This was followed by more college, then a master’s and PhD from Princeton University. After, the affable young man took to Silicon Valley, embarking on a virtuosic career that led to becoming Microsoft’s first chief technology officer. Myhrvold retired from that role in 1999, a fabulously wealthy man, in order to embark upon Intellectual Ventures, another wildly lucrative company seen by some as a spur for innovation and by others as a patent troll. But for most of the last decade, Myhrvold, always a foodie, has devoted himself to a gastronomic laboratory called Modernist Cuisine, which has produced a series of in-depth books. Now, he’s released his latest, most artistically ambitious tome yet: Food & Drink: Modernist Cuisine Photography.
If it seems strange that a plutocrat titan of industry should devote himself to creative pursuits, you have, perhaps, not known enough plutocrat titans. There’s David Solomon, Goldman Sach’s CEO, also known as DJ D-Sol, who has played festivals like Lollapalooza. Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, a serious ukulele player, has dueted with Jon Bon Jovi and frequently whips out his diminutive four-string at shareholder meetings. Robert Mnuchin, former Goldman Sachs partner and father of Steve, found a second career as an art dealer in his later years. And don’t forget President George W. Bush, who has devoted many of his post-White House years to oil portraits. (His work has been collected into two monographs: Portraits of Courage and Out of Many, One.)
Myhrvold’s work, though, seems a little more in line with his day job. Many of the shots necessitated new techniques that Myhrvold developed. The pages of Food & Drink are filled with grills perfectly cut in half, navel oranges so close they become abstract, blueberries so large they look like boulders, and glasses of wine mid-smash as the liquid arcs into the air. As Myhrvold explains, “It only has to be beautiful for a thousandth of a second.” Unlike his time heading operating systems at Microsoft, the crash is exactly the point.