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



Two Days in Disneyland with Larry Sultan

Last week during a trip to San Francisco, I took time to see the show dedicated to Larry Sultan's editorial work at Casemore Kirkeby Gallery. I love his work and looking at them took me back to the two days I spent assisting him in 2008.

My friend Amy called me and asked me if I could do her a favor and assist Larry Sultan(!) in her stead as a schedule conflict came up. At the time, I was largely phasing myself out of being an assistant, trying to make my way solely as a photographer. I knew it was time. I wanted to shoot, not assist and I had become that surly assistant with a bad attitude, having hung around the game a little too long. So I turned down assisting gigs even though it was a tough going and money was tight. But when Amy called about Larry Sultan...Sure, I guess I could help her out. What are friends for?

When I started out in photography, I worked for a period at A&I film lab. During the time I was working there, Sultan was getting images from his "The Valley" project printed for exhibitions. Every now and then, I'd see images from the work mixed in with other jobs coming through the pipeline. I remember the large print, about 4'x5', of "Tasha's third film" just hanging out for months. I'd go back to get an order and always take a moment to look at the print, transfixed at the multiple narratives contained in that one frame: the vulnerable expression of the young girl trying hard to look like a woman, the napping grips, the cameraman pointing the lens at the disembodied intertwined legs of the adult actors lying outside on the grass. I'd be staring at the print thinking "wow, that's a Larry Sultan photo!"

Sultan came to fame with his book "Evidence" a collection of photographs co-curated with Mike Mandel. The book showed the strangeness of America and modern industrial society by showing archival photographs gathered from various industries stripped of context and captions. The viewer's reception and understanding of the photographs and their meanings changed without the necessary context.

His next book was "Pictures from Home" containing portraits of his parents along with old family photos and home movie stills. The book showed how memories of our lives are constructed by photographs, photographs that might not necessarily tell the "truth".

The book following that was the aforementioned "The Valley", a series of photos chronicling the use of middle class houses in the San Fernando valley for porn shoots.

The shoot I was to assist Sultan on was for Cookie magazine, a short-lived parenting magazine published by Conde Nast to illustrate a memory piece about Disneyland. Apparently, the editors wanted him to photograph Disneyland in a "Larry Sultan way".

What does that mean? Larry didn't know either. "What are you looking for", I asked him several times. "I don't know", he'd say. "I'll know it when I see it." So to find "it" we traipsed around Disneyland on two very hot days carting around a Sinar 4x5, Mamiya RZII, Mamiya7 rangefinder, a Nikon dslr, host of lenses and film for each format, speedlights, and battery powered strobes, accompanied by an impossibly difficult minder from Disneyland whose sole purpose, it seemed, was to deny us permission and access.

He had his wife Kelly there to help him produce the shoot. It was wonderful to see how gentle and affectionate they were with each other. Almost heartbreakingly tender. They still treated each other as if they were still on their third date. I could see why he was a beloved teacher at CCA.

The second day of the shoot, we were having lunch when Kelly told a story about a family she saw that morning. The father was trying to take the obligatory "family portrait at Disneyland" and the boy was not having a good day, whining and generally being grumpy. "Smile" the father barked at the boy, according to Kelly's imitation of the dad. Then when the boy did so, the response was "Not good enough. bigger"

I wish I was there to see that. If there was a Larry Sultan moment at Disneyland, that was it.

After two long days, we said our goodbyes. He emailed me some photos from the shoot. I emailed him asking for some advice about a book project I was working on which he helpfully replied to. Later, in a PDN article he said the Disney shoot was an interesting experience but didn't get much in the end. Oh well.

Then just like that, he was gone. A year later, he passed away from cancer. Gone far too soon. I had never been to Disneyland prior to the shoot and I have not gone since. If those two days are the only time I visit that place, I'm fine with that.

Out of respect for Larry Sultan's copyright, I won't post an image from from the shoot on this post. Instead, you can see one of the images by visiting his website. And be ready for some wonderful photographs when you go there.

Laura Chenel

Laura Chenel started a small farm in the Sonoma county during the late 70s and among the bees, chickens and vegetables, raised goats. She needed to do something with all the milk the goats were producing so she started making cheese. In doing so, Chenel became the first in America to commercially make goat cheese and is considered by some to have started the artisan cheese movement in the states. Soon, her chevre became a big hit. At Chez Panisse, where Alice Waters was an early booster, the Baked Goat Cheese with Salad is such an iconic dish, it's the only item they cannot remove from the menu without incurring the wrath of the diners.

But that was another lifetime ago. Chenel is now retired. She sold her namesake company in 2006 having grown tired of raising the goats and running the company. She now lives a quiet life in a beautiful house on top of a hill in Napa.

I photographed her in January during a week of torrential downpour. It seemed as if California was trying to make up for the past five years of drought in one week! It rained during most of the drive from Santa Rosa to her place in Napa valley so I was planning on photographing her inside. Just before I reached her place, the rain slowed to light mist. One obvious benefit from the much needed rain was the lush green landscape. Next to the front gate to her place runs a creek. The contours of the creek bed with the rocks and trees all covered in green leaves and moss with the water churning through from the rain made it seem like a setting from a woodland fairy tale or an Andy Goldsworthy installation. We walked around her place to look at other possible settings but my mind kept going back to the creek. By sheer luck of timing, the rain stopped just enough to make it possible for me to photograph Chenel there.

Once we were done with the shoot, the rain started up again and continued for the drive back to Santa Rosa and throughout the week. But somehow, that one moment when I needed it to stop, it stopped. Just dumb luck, I guess.



Noam Pikelny

Noam Pikelny is the preeminent banjo player of his generation. He is a member of the progressive bluegrass band, The Punch Brothers, a supergroup of sorts. Each member share a common background of being young prodigies in their respective instruments, growing up in the small, insular bluegrass circuit. Together, they push the boundaries of the genre and cross over into classical, rock, jazz and anything in between. Prior to the Punch Brothers, he was a member of Leftover Salmon and played in John Cowan's band; Cowan of the New Grass Revival fame, the early progressive bluegrass band that is perhaps the progenitor of the Punch Brothers. Pikelny also has the distinction of being the first recipient of the "Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass". Yes, that Steve Martin. And no, not a joke but a pretty serious and prestigious award established by Martin to recognize extraordinary banjo players.

On March 5th. Pikelny made his debut at McCabe's Guitar Shop playing a solo performance to a sold out audience. Two days prior, his solo album "Universal Favorite" was released. UF isn't a solo album in the sense of an individual from a band recording an album apart from his band with another group of musicians. This is a SOLO album; Noam and his instrument. That's it. Anybody who plays an instrument knows that solo performances are very taxing mentally. For an hour and a half, it's just you. There's no coasting. There's no laying out while others take a solo. There's no sharing of the weight. JUST. YOU.

Pikelny did a long soundcheck that went close to the start of the show and needed to get ready. So he requested that we shoot the portrait after the show. Ideally, I like to shoot the portraits just before the performance. Waiting till after the show can be a crapshoot depending on how the show went, how many friends are at the show wanting to hang out and other factors that can easily lead the musician to say, "maybe not tonight."

He was playing his fourth show in as many days in as many cities. And with the new album out, he was doing lots of interviews in addition. He played the show (now mind you he's not strumming three chords and singing but playing some very complex stuff) and met his fans and signed albums. After talking with his last fan, he just deflated from fatigue. He was tired! He said he hadn't been that tired in a long time. He could have easily begged off from the shoot but pressed on without complaining.

Thanks Noam!


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.   

Good Food Awards 2017 Portrait Gallery

The weekend of January 20th, Good Food Foundation held its seventh annual Good Food Awards recognizing outstanding food producers around the country exhibiting excellent craftsmanship in responsible, sustainable manner.  I was happy the award ceremony was held on the 20th. I needed something to take my mind off what was happening on the other side of the country. What better way than to see old friends and familiar faces as well as meeting new people devoted to the cause of good food.

Of course, things are not that simple and compartmentalized. Throughout the ceremony and the weekend, the current political situation colored the mood and found its way into conversations. What I found heartening was that the tone wasn't defeatist. I felt instead the community had a sense of purpose and a commitment to standing up for integrity and equality.

As I did last year, I set up an area to take portraits at the ceremony and the Mercantile the next day. This is a haphazard operation, trying to get the people to stand in front of the camera. There is no official agenda or schedule for the portraits. Very few of the attendees are aware that I am doing this. Many of the people I should photograph, I don't know what they look like so it's a challenge to find them in a crowd. And some of the subjects I have to gently coax. It's a fun way to spend the two days, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones in five minute increments.

One more observation: With the Women's March held on the same day as the Mercantile the issue of feminism and gender equality was on my mind throughout the day. I couldn't help but notice again the prominent roles that women have in the food world, at least as represented by the Good Food Awards. If the future is indeed female, the food world is ahead of its time. And that's a good thing.

With that, Here are the portraits of some of the presenters, staff and participants of the Good Food Awards 2017.

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. 

Portrait Gallery from the "True Cost of American Food" Conference, April 15-16, 2016

I had the pleasure of attending the "True Cost of American Food" organized by The Sustainable Food Trust back in April in San Francisco. I use the word "attending" lightly because while I was there, I really did not see much of the conference. You see, I was there to take portraits of the speakers for the Culinaria project as the speakers scheduled for the conference included many leading thinkers and voices of the food world.

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