Culinaria Show at HealdsburgSHED

Photo:Eric Wolfinger

Photo:Eric Wolfinger

I'm happy to announce HealdsburgSHED will be showing prints from the Culinaria project during the month of June!

Cindy and Doug describe their place as a modern grange; a market, cafe and a community gathering space located at the wonderful town of Healdsburg. It won the James Beard award for restaurant design in 2014 and deservedly so. When you walk in, everything in the place, from the design of the building to the smallest product sold to the delectable menus created by culinary director Perry Hoffman, feels just right. Cindy does such a wonderful job curating and sourcing quality items from dinnerware to Japanese rubber boots and the curation of events at their grange is equally well thought out.

It is for this reason that I feel especially honored that Cindy and Doug feel my images worthy enough to be shown at their space. Twelve large prints will be shown, including the portrait of the Schmitt family. The artist reception is on June 7th from 6pm-7:30pm. If you are in the Bay area or in Sonoma County, please stop by and say hello.

Culinaria Opening Reception
Wednesday, June 7
6 PM - 7:30 PM

Healdsburg SHED
25 North Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448



Deb Eschmeyer

People often ask me how I reach the people I photograph for the Culinaria project. It usually starts with an email. And the emails can take me to interesting places. The photoshoot with Deb Eschmeyer is one such example.

Last year in January, I reached out to Deb with a request to photograph her for the Culinaria project. She was the Executive Director of First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" initiative and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy at The White House under the Obama administration. Prior to taking on that role, she was the co-founder of Foodcorps and is the recipient of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award. She is a formidable presence in the food world as a policy maker and influencer. 

Deb responded fairly quickly and passed me onto Joanna Rosholm, the Deputy Communications Director. That began a short series of emails vetting the project. When she asked me whether I needed the White House for the shoot, I knew things were getting serious! Within a week of my initial email, they agreed to Deb's participation in the project! Easy! Now, I just had to figure out the shoot date with the intern tasked with the job. I hoped to photograph Deb around June.

After several email exchanges with the intern I got radio silence. I waited several weeks before reaching out. Again, nothing. It wasn't until May that it was discovered that the intern had left and my emails were left unread. At that point, June wasn't happening. I went through the process again with the next intern. After all was said and done, I would cycle through three interns.

Eventually, I was given a date in late September for the shoot and a conference call was scheduled for September 1st with Joanna, Catherine Oakar from the office of Let's Move!, producer Kevin Bishop and myself to talk details. Knowing that I'd have limited time at the White House and VERY little margin for error, I asked my friend Kevin to produce the job for me so that I can focus on the photography only.

On September 1st. I'm heading into San Francisco from a location. The plan is to get in town then pull off somewhere to talk. But before I make it into town, an hour before the scheduled conference call, I get pulled over for speeding! The last time I got pulled over was when I was sixteen and NOW is the time I get pulled over again?! Unbelievable! I make it into SF, pull off into the Palace of the Fine Arts and do my best to focus on the upcoming conversation. We start the conference call and Joanna and Catherine immediately tell me the date in September will no longer work! That was not a good day but at least now I knew they were committed to the shoot happening and we nailed down the East Portico as the location.

We settle on a day in October for the shoot and for the next month, I'm in research mode, studying all the photos I can find of the East Portico and exterior environmental portraits taken at the White House. I'm looking at the White House image on Google Earth and Google Maps with the sun path chart in hand. Two weeks from the shoot, I start checking the weather reports for Washington DC. A local assistant John Skowronski joins the team.

The day before the shoot I drive from a shoot at Joel Salatin's farm in Virginia into Washington D.C. I meet Kevin at the hotel where we're staying and after dinner go over the plans. We have an hour to set up (which is pretty generous, considering) thirty minutes to shoot, then thirty minutes to pack up.  I diagram out the two setups we can do in the thirty minutes and a possible third set up. Normally, I wouldn't go into such details of the shoot with a producer but Kevin's an accomplished photographer himself alongside being a great producer. I wanted him familiar with the lighting set up so that in the event I get tied up, Kevin can direct John on what needs to be done. The next morning, we meet John near the White House and go over the game plan with him. It's good for Kevin and I to go over the plan again ourselves so that it's fresh in our minds. East Portico here we come!

We go through security and meet Catherine. She says hello then tells me the East Portico is not available for the shoot due to a last minute event! She can instead offer a room in the East Wing. Will that work? She asked. I asked her if I had any other options? No, she said. "Then the room is perfect!" I replied. My biggest concern throughout the months of planning was the cancellation of the shoot due to a national or an international emergency. (I actually called my photo insurance company to see if they had any sort of coverage for such cancellations. No dice!) After all I've invested in time and money, there was no sense of losing it an hour before the shoot. The loss of East Portico meant the month of research was now useless but we could probably adapt our shot lists and lighting plans to the room. Besides, we have a room, we still had the hour to set up, we're in the WHITE HOUSE and Deb was still gonna be photographed! So all in all, eh, no big deal.    

The team. John Skowronski, Kevin Bishop and myself. post shoot. To honor the location, I asked everyone to dress in suits. John got a pass on jacket and tie because he was lifting gear. 

We go to the room reserved for the shoot and I realize I know this room. I'd seen it in a video during my research. The room is rich, warm, and inviting due to the wood paneling. Okay, good! Now, my mind is racing to find the composition. I settle on an area next to a Federalist style credenza with a Mary Cassatt painting in the background for shot one then a placement for shot two and we begin setting up. We immediately discover the profoto strobe heads won't fit on the c-std arms because the arm is painted black! Dammit! Never seen that before! I can't get the lights exactly where I want them. Okay, we need to slightly alter the lighting position. Then we find the batteries for the second set of strobes we rented is near dead. Sonofa...! Okay, no big deal. We simply will use the power pack from shot one for both setups. We just have to remember the setting for the two setups and change accordingly when we move. A hassle but nothing major, but I'm definitely having low opinions of the rental house at this point. The set needs a little life so I ask if we can get some fruits or vegetable from the White House Kitchen. They bring in the fruit bowl from the First Lady Obama's office with her apples and oranges. Perfect!

At this point, I have my recurring thoughts. What will Deb look like? Will she be coming from a policy meeting, harried and frazzled? What will she be wearing? sensible business attire? Something fashionable? What IS her sense of fashion like? (couldn't get a good sense from the google search) Should I have hired hair & makeup person after all? I'm just not sure what I will get.

Brandon our WH liaison and I showing our...umm...affiliations.

At the appointed time, Brandon, our WH liaison called to let them know we were ready and Deb came in. And she's gorgeous! Her raven black hair is luxurious, her makeup just so. She's wearing a fashionable silver-gray form fitting dress that contrasts wonderfully from the warm, wooden hue of the room. She looks ready for a White House ball. And she's nice and friendly the way a farm girl from Ohio will be. At this point, I just knew the shoot was gonna be a success. I've gotten great results with much less before.

We turn on Beyonce and start shooting. Usually at this point on a shoot, I have flop sweat going from setting up the lights and nerves. But today I'm good. Because John did most of the work. Because I know I have Kevin here making sure everything's taken care of. Because Deb looks great and is a natural in front of the camera and because everyone in the White House team have been super nice and helpful. We were so efficient that we had time to do a third shot. Then the thirty minutes was up. We chatted a bit. She thanked us and left and it was all over! 

Getting my tourist shot. At this point, my face and mood is beginning to acknowledge all the pressure and stress that had been building up.

All BTS photos courtesy of Kevin Bishop

In the end, it took me nine months to get to the White House to photograph Deb Eschmeyer. One thing I quickly learned photographing people is that important people are busy. Some people took two years to schedule the shoot so nine months was nothing. I can be patient.

And it all started with an email.   

Pascal Baudar, Forager

I first heard of Pascal Baudar on Evan Kleiman's "Good Food" radio show on KCRW. She was interviewing him about his newest book "The New Wildcrafted Cuisine". He talked about making sodas, beer, salads and spices from ingredients foraged from the wild Southern California terrain. His stories were so fascinating that I knew I needed to photograph him. I reached out, emails were exchanged and about two weeks later, we met at a 7-11 in the foothills of San Gabriel Mountains. 

Pascal has a build of a man who spends hours and days hiking in the wild foraging for food; lean and rangy. We hopped into his car and drove up the mountain roads towards an area he likes to hike. The road was one I knew well as it is a popular road for road cyclists who enjoy long climbs. I've been on that road many times pedaling in the heat at the edge of exploding, paying attention to the twist and turns of the road as it heads upwards, surrounded by the greens of the forest. Riding that same road with Pascal was a different, eye opening experience. As we'd drive, he'd point out "that's wild nettles" or say something like, "those are mugworts. You can brew wonderful tea with them." What were just fields of green leaves and shrubs to me were collections of many varieties of plants that could be eaten. In fact, he pointed out that 80% of what we saw in front of us could be used as ingredients for cooking!

Soon, we parked and hiked into the woods to reach a suitable area for the portraits. As we walked, Pascal would have a running narrative, pointing out the various wild plants that could be foraged for food. He talked about his recent experience teaching foraging in the Northeast, having to research the native vegetation there and figure out what was edible. He told me about his experience collaborating with star chefs of LA incorporating wild edibles into their menu. He pointed out the buzzing in the air was from the bees who traveled certain paths to and from their hives. "It's like highways", he explained. Throughout the shoot, he was like this, regaling me with stories from his experience foraging in the woods, giving short lessons on making food from foraged ingredients, all the while paying attention to the world around him, attuned to signs and noises and their meanings that I wasn't even aware of. As I photographed him he'd often look up, his attention on some distant sound. 

If you have any interest in cooking off the beaten path, check out Pascal Baudar's book. Better yet, if you live in the Southern California area, consider taking a class with him!

The Schmitt-Bates-Skupny Family Portrait

Back in August, I was in Philo, CA for a brief retreat. During that time, I took the opportunity to visit the Apple Farm and take some portrait for the Culinaria project. The original idea was to photograph Tim and Karen Bates who own and operate the farm. I went to meet them and scout the location the day before the proposed shoot day. During the visit, they introduced me to their daughter Rita and her husband Jerzy Skupny who both work at the farm. Then I met Karen's dad Don eating a peach outside the kitchen door. Don and his wife Sally are culinary royalty. They are the founders of The French Laundry and before that, The Chutney Kitchen, putting the little town of Yountville on the culinary map. I floated the idea of doing a family portrait to Karen and Tim and soon the shoot grew from one couple to three couples spanning three generations.

The more people in a photo, the richer the narrative due to the multiple stories embodied by the subjects. This single family portrait touches on many different issues Culinaria explores.

Sally and Don Schmitt embody the California Cuisine revolution. They did the locally sourced, farm-to-table thing before the term got coined. They strongly advocated the California wines being grown by their friends before California wines were taken seriously. Sally's prix fixe dinners announced the idea of the chef as a creative being rather than a service provider. Their daughter Karen and her husband Tim Bates have run the Apple Farm since the Schmitt Family purchased it in 1984. They can tell you stories about the romance of going back to the land to grow some 1700 trees of apples but they can also tell you tales of the hard, uncertain life that is part of every farmer's experience. In the Bates, you also have the story of the ecological awareness of their generation as they converted their farm to organic standards then later to biodynamic certifications. Their daughter Rita and her husband Jerzy Skupny will be the next generation to run the farm. Today, many small family farms are in danger of disappearing as the farmers near retirement age and their children largely lack interest in continuing. Tim and Karen have avoided that fate as Rita and Jerzy have expressed interest in continuing the Schmitt-Bates legacy at the Apple Farm.

There are many more in the Schmitt family of course, including a florist daughter, a hotelier/restaurateur son, an award winning chef grandson, a rancher grandaughter, and many more, including a circus stiltwalker. But that's another story and perhaps another family photo for the future. 

A New Start, a new website!

Nell Newman/Newman's Own

Nell Newman/Newman's Own

OK. the first blog post of the year! The first blog post ever, if you really want to get technical. Don't know who will be reading this but with the new year upon us, lets talk about new things.

Even with the typical sense of a fresh start that the first month of the year brings, the beginning of this year has given me a stronger sense of renewal and impetus for change unlike in the years before. Let's see how long this lasts. 

First, a new look for my website. After having used a hosting service provider for several years, I grew tired of its limitation and was happy to find a new service provider who had everything I was looking for. And cheaper to boot! Thanks Kim for the suggestion.

I also would like to introduce a new project-Culinaria. A portrait series of people who are doing important work in the food world; People who produce food, prepare it, or advocate or write about it. These people, such as Nell Newman photographed above are changing the way we understand and interact with food. I have been working on this project for some time now and it has been a joy, I must say, to meet all these wonderful people. Take a look and I hope you'll enjoy the photographs. I certainly enjoyed making them!