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My Best Tip-Toe Forward…

Last week I received a phone call from a well-known company asking to see my portfolio. They wanted to see still life, food and some people (because they don’t usually do much photography of people.)

While that phone call was very exciting, the problem was that no one had ever asked me to send in an actual printed portfolio before… so I didn’t have a portfolio to send.

Inspired, I started enthusiastically dragging out the hard drives and digging though the archives. Eventually I came up with a portfolio containing my most favorite 137 photos.

Luckily my talented graphic designer and trusty adviser, Tyler Young, said 137 photos might be a tad too many. So reluctantly, I whittled the portfolio down and here it is… my best (abridged) attempt to tip-toe further into the commercial world of still-life and food… with just a few people.

In the second grade I learned how to spell dessert…

We were living in Korea and I was going to an American school.

I can’t remember my teacher’s name.

But I can remember the day when my teacher, whose name might have started with a G, was writing on the blackboard and explaining that a desert only has one “s.”

But a dessert has two, because you always want more dessert than desert.

She was right. I have always wanted more dessert than desert… or anything else really.

But today I learned that after spending all day photographing just five desserts, for the Town Hall cook book, eventually, even I did not want more dessert… well at least for a few hours. Knowing that I wasn’t permanently cured of my insatiable sweet tooth, I boxed up the leftovers and took them home, so I would be prepared when the cravings for more dessert returned.

Huge thanks to my very stylish and talented friend, Bridget, for making the day and process so much sweeter.

How much do you like your bacon? (part one)

My friends, Rebecca and Nick, like bacon so much that in December they got their own pigs to raise… and slaughter. And ever since the pigs arrived, they have been talking about all the different ways they were going to eat their pigs when the time came.

Well, last Wednesday, the time came… and Nick called me to see if I wanted to document the process.

Personally, I don’t eat bacon, or much meat at all.

When I get to choose the food I eat, I choose vegetables, partially because I am lazy and meat requires a lot more work than vegetables, but mostly because I don’t want to support the inhumane and toxic practices of factory farming (for more information watch Food, Inc.)

But if I am served meat then I will gratefully eat it. I don’t like to be rude and I don’t like to waste food. And if I know where the meat is coming from and how the animals were raised, then sometimes I actually even choose to eat meat, like heritage turkeys at Thanksgiving, or grass-fed burgers at the Fremont Diner… so I call myself an opportunivore.

Because I do occasionally eat meat, I think it is important that I know what it means to eat meat… to see the process of going from a live animal to, in this case, bacon.

So Wednesday I documented the first step… Killing the pigs. I have documented sheep being harvested before, at Windrush Farm, but never pigs. Pigs are a little smarter and more personable than sheep, so I was a little nervous and not entirely confident I could watch. But really it wasn’t so bad.

Actually I would be grateful if my death were as quick and painless, and if my body could continue to be a part of the life-cycle, instead of having to be cremated or preserved in a box, wasting valuable resources and land.

So I arrived and met the pigs. I gave them both belly rubs until they rolled over and passed out in pure joy.

Then the truck arrived. We met JD and his special truck that is equipped to process animals on site, which is less stressful for the animals because they don’t have to be transported to a slaughterhouse.

Nick was also nervous. He was the one who cared for these pigs every day for the last three months, and he wasn’t sure he could watch them being killed either. But before we realized, JD had already shot the first one and the process of cleaning and butchering began.

The photos posted were taken with my Rolleiflex, which actually make the event look less graphic. If you would like another perspective, or to compare the difference between film and digital, then there is also a slide show of photos I took with my digital camera.

If you would prefer not to know where your bacon comes from then now is a good time to close your eyes…

These were two lucky pigs. They lived a good life and they will continue to live on in the bodies of my sustainably farming friends.

Next step in making bacon: butchering. Those photos coming soon.

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Right place at the right time…

On June 16th, I was in San Francisco hanging out in the kitchen of the restaurant Town Hall, so I could have a better understanding of the food and space for our upcoming photo shoot for their book proposal. When, Mitch, one of the owners and chefs, suggested that I come down and take a photo of him and his brother Steven, with their former employer, Wolfgang Puck, at the restaurant Postrio, in Union Square.

I didn’t know much about Postrio, I had never been there before, and I am not the most knowledgeable when it comes to celebrities. I had heard of Wolfgang Puck, but I couldn’t really tell you much about him either… so I didn’t really know what to expect. I only knew what I was told, which was: this was a restaurant that had been open for some time and they were having two closing dinners… tickets for the occasion sold out in 30 minutes… and there were very long waiting lists to get in.

So I showed up and took a few photos of the chefs prepping for the night and then decided to head home for the day.

As I got my things ready to leave, Steven informed me that Wolfgang said they would pay me to stay for the rest of the night and the next night too, if I would take photos of this important occasion. Mentally, logistically and physically I was not prepared for this assignment. I did not have enough memory cards or a flash, and I was wearing jeans in a very formal restaurant… but I could sense this was an important occasion that needed to be documented… and that I had a very unique opportunity… so of course I said yes.

And my sense was right… it was a pretty incredible bittersweet reunion filled with very hard work, lots of white chef coats, old friends and colleagues, dedicated patrons, sweat, conversation, tears, hugs, laughter, celebrities, lots of wine and good food.

My favorite part of the night was meeting the different generations of amazing chefs who worked at the restaurant over the years and who now live all over the country and run their own restaurants. These chefs returned to Postrio for the finals nights and worked for free, just to be a part of this occasion.

I also met customers who had been coming every Saturday night since the restaurant opened and waiters who had been working there for the same amount of years. I met my first celebrity, a very nice and humble man, who has not been affected by his popularity, and who made so many people smile as he walked around and talked to every person in the room. And I got a glimpse of other local celebrities, including the former SF Mayor Willie Brown, with his entourage, and the William of William and Sonoma.

It was a real community… built around good food and wine. The room was filled with people who knew and loved each other.

I have worked in quite a few restaurants, but there is not a single one that I would ever want to return to, even if it were closing down forever. I was told it was the end of an era for San Francisco, and after my two nights at Postrio, I certainly believe it.

Food Glorious Food…

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Since my arrival in California in 2001… I have eaten countless amazing meals. The new culinary world I landed in opened doors for my tastebuds that I didn’t even know existed. So you would think, this being such an important new adventure for me that I would have better documentation of this new edible adventure. But I don’t.

I just ate without stopping to document, let alone chew.

So when asked to present the samples of my food photography, I am embarrassed to say that I don’t have too much to show for my 8 years in food bliss. I feel guilty when I think of all that potential that was just consumed without regard to my future photography needs.

Even tonight… Arann made a beautiful dish of pasta with colorful veggies that he arranged perfectly in a bowl with complimentary colors… and as we sat on the front porch to eat, I said, “This is so pretty, I should photograph this, especially since my task is to present beautiful food photos.” But I didn’t…. I just dug right in and started shoveling that pasta until it was gone.

And as my punishment… I spent the evening digging through all my external hard drives searching for anything that I could justify putting in a food portfolio. My selection is pretty slim. I do have lots of butchering photos, from my farm living days, but I am not quite sure that is what the editor called for.

So from this day forth, I vow to do a better job of recording the food that is presented to me, before I quickly ingest it. In the meantime this is what I have, thanks to my gardener friends and a few: PR gigs, camping trips, Easter buffets, weddings and magazine assignments.

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Bringing in the New Year…

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The Green String Farm Band played at Rocker Oysterfeller’s Speakeasy in Valley Ford on New Year’s Eve. It was an amazing occasion complete with a four-course prohibition era dinner, consisting of classic dishes from the 1920’s and 1930’s created with locally produced ingredients. The costumes were amazing and when combined with the atmosphere inside the historic Dairyman’s Bank (1890), it was easy to forget what year we were bringing in with our celebrations.

If you ever are in need of a fun place to go for dinner, and you are up for an adventure, then you should check out Rocker Oysterfeller’s. The food is phenomenal and they are continously trying new theme nights that make the occasion worth the drive. And as an extra bonus, you can find Arann Harris singing it up out there every Thursday night in 2009.

The Winner….

Here it is… the chosen one. My first photo on a book cover published by a real publishing house (unlike my self-published book.) This is the rough draft of their design. The photo is enlarged and the rest of it wraps around the book jacket… with some of my other photos on the back.

I think it looks good. I am happy. Yay, for working with a team of good designers and a writer who believes in having good photos. Thank you UC Press and Jonah.

The Aftermath of a Good Meal… for a book cover…

The night after I returned from my 3 week East Coast jaunt, I had to do another photo shoot for the cover of the farming book I have been working on, because the marketing department changed their minds and said this…

We're hoping to find an image that speaks a little more to the subtitle of the book: A Year of Farming, Eating, and Drinking Wine in California.

I'm thinking of something informal looking, the aftermath of a meal outside, before the table is cleared off. A meal involving vegetables and wine of course. Some background (blurry or otherwise) showing the farm might be nice. I don't think there need be any people in the picture (but maybe animals are OK!).

But the deadline was, of course, set for the Friday after I returned. So, nothing like jumping right back in. Luckily, I had Mimi, Arann’s mom, who is an experienced food stylist, with me to help make sure everything was as photogenic as possible, because I didn’t even have time to think about that aspect as well.

Now, which of these photos as a cover of a book would tempt you to pick the book up to find out more…

Photos that make you want to eat pizza…

My second gig for the PR company while I was in London, was photographing Vapiano, a new restaurant near Oxford Circus. Still no flash, but this time, thanks to the two-story wall of windows and the color red, it was much easier to photograph than the yogurt factory that I photographed a couple of hours earlier that day.

The hardest thing about the shoot was to convince the unsuspecting patrons to let me photograph them while they were eating. London is not the most photography friendly city. I have found that Londoners, as a huge sweeping generalization, are not into having their photo taken. I am not sure whether it is because it is their last shred of control over their image, after having every move documented by the thousands of surveillance cameras all over the city, or just the humble nature that is a part of their culture. Whatever the case, it is not as easy to photograph strangers as it is here in the: I-want-to-be-famous United States. But luckily, I was able to talk a few people into allowing me to unobtrusively document their Vapiano experience that day.

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