Duration: Five years full time as a freelancer. Some part time prior to that. Let’s just say I didn’t quit my day job.
Location: Atlanta, Georgia, and New York, New York.
Education: Associate of arts in art history from Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles, California; some classes at from the International Center of Photography in New York, New York.
Career path: Interested in the arts, I took a few photography courses in high school and then in college. Ultimately, I ended up working in production. I was a bookings manager at production company Smashbox Studios in Los Angeles; owned a studio in Hollywood that catered to high-end fashion and celebrity clients; and then moved back to New York City to work at Splashlight, a digital agency that dealt with e-commerce clients. While I was working at Splashlight, I hired the food photographer and stylist, who is now at Epicurious, for a food related brief and had an epiphany on set: Why was I not shooting food? At that time, I had been blogging about food, but I was so immersed in e-commerce that it hadn’t occurred to me that food photography was a career option. Food is something that everyone needs, that everyone has in common. Food is the one currency that is relevant worldwide to all humans.
Cultural influences: I am fueled by an innate sense of curiosity and am influenced by nature, history, literature and old films, notably anything with Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn or Jimmy Stewart.
Favorite projects: Forest and Forage, a project I created based on the Brothers Grimm and Aesop stories that I read as a child. During the fall, I gathered the leaves and barks of varying specimens—a practice instilled in me at an early age by my mother—and used them to ideate a food story based on what I had foraged. I created a mood board and worked with a food stylist to determine what we would use: mushrooms, quail, quail eggs, honey, wild berries and dandelion greens. When shooting, I lit the scenes to be redolent of a dense, sun-dappled forest. I knew it was a successful project when I was a Gold Winner at the Tokyo International Foto Awards.
I’m also very proud of a current and ongoing series called Covid Cocktails, shot during lockdown. For this, I looked to previous food photography references—particularly the work of photographer Nickolas Muray—to create some retro cocktails with a sense of artifice and glamour.
Another one is Cool Stuff in Tins & Tubes, an examination of global food packaging where I take the colors of the packaging and allow them to inform the creative direction. It’s typically a package shot followed by a recipe shot, put together as a diptych. I’m proud of these personal projects because they tend to garner more publicity and recognition than my commercial work.
Approach: I have a background in psychology—it was almost my major—so I’m good at listening to the needs of my clients and being diplomatic in dealing with various personalities. Being adaptable and having flexibility and problem-solving capabilities are essential to success. Problem solving is what we do as photographers; if it’s not in the technical realm, it’s with the personalities involved. In addition, I have extensive production experience, so I understand that side of photography as well.
Without question, my versatility is also key. Early on in my career, I was told that I needed to apply only a central look and feel to my style. But that is anathema to me; it’s like telling me that I can only wear one color of lipstick. Needless to say, I avoided that direction and went with my gut. It’s worked out well, because my clients are very diverse. It’s not about me; it’s about them and their needs. And as cliché as it may sound, I love shooting food. It brings me incredible joy to work with food, whether it’s shooting products or telling a more elaborate story.
Aspirations: I’d like to gain more travel photography experience. Traveling and sharing experiences of different cultures is enriching, and I would like to shoot for more publications of that ilk.
In addition, I am hosting my first food photography workshop in 2021, and I am eager to share my knowledge and be a mentor to beginners who are interested in food photography. I can see this particular aspect of my career developing into an ongoing and committed prospect for the future, perhaps including partnering with some photography sponsors. And I’d love to open another studio and shoot a cookbook or two.
Philosophy: To continually entertain my sense of curiosity. To keep learning and apply that knowledge in every aspect of what I do. Shoot, shoot, shoot, experiment, develop new relationships and retain old ones. I keep a notebook of potential projects detailed down to lighting ideas, color palettes, food stories, places I want to visit and shoot, and people I want to work with. I use this as an outline for my aspirations and when I approach a new project or client. When I was starting out, developing relationships was key. I was working in the studio every weekend for almost two years testing with stylists and lighting and working harder than everyone else, never resting on my laurels. One tenet I live by is to always treat people with respect. You never know where people in this industry end up, so it’s not just common sense and decency—it’s smart.
Anything else? I have a black belt in kyokushin, which is full-contact karate, and I’ve carried over those philosophies into my professional life. Having a sense of calm during a storm—whether it is on set or not—gives me the trait of being unflappable.