Chances are, if you’ve stood in a Chinese takeout restaurant at any time in the last thirty-eight years or so, staring up at the menu whole deciding what to order, you’ve seen the work of Chroma Specialized Photographic Services, Ltd. (CSPS). They’re the country’s foremost photographers of menu items for Chinese food and happen to be located right here in the city (652 Locane Boulevard).
The whole venture began by accident in 1968 when Gordon Nolan, a burgeoning portrait photographer, received a call from a friend who was starting up a takeout place in the Eaveston neighborhood. The budding restauranteur had decided he wanted somewhat professional photos of a few sample dishes hanging above the counter. Nolan set up his studio, the friend brought over ten dishes and a very specialized business was born. That first restaurant has long been closed, but through word of mouth at first, then solely on reputation, Gordon Nolan went from taking photos of families and high school seniors to dishes of Moo Goo Gai Pan.
After doing this for about ten restaurants over the course of a year, Nolan decided to make this new sideline his specialty- establishing Asian Cuisine Photographic Concepts and specifically going after a market no one had really thought of yet. After the first couple of years, as he began to land clients outside of the city, he took a gamble and bought a much larger space, equipped with a full-service kitchen, so the dishes could be prepared on-site by a rotating roster of local chefs. The studio has even received an ‘Honorable Mention’ in City Beat magazine’s best restaurants list a couple of times.
In 1989, Gordon’s son, Randall, joined the business and convinced his father to diversify a bit into industrial photography and shots of other types of food, while changing the name to the less specific Chroma Specialized Photographic Services. The Chinese food still serves as their bread and butter, however, so to speak.
The studio has built up a stock photo library of 49,000 pictures of Chinese food dishes, the largest in the United States. They’re rather friendly and offer access to the collection for research purposes- if you’d like to see, say pot stickers from 1974 or 1983-vintage General Tso’s (or Tao’s) Chicken, it’s in there, in full color and preserved for the ages.
– R. White