Thursday, June 18, 2009

International Conference on Food Styling & Photography; a Personal Journey Part II

Continued from yesterday's post, click on the title for Part I:

As I walked into the main room for breakfast I was permeated by a high energy of creative excitement. A collective synergy of the most creative and generous sprits I would meet in my entire life. It brings me to the brink of tears to think that I’m back on isolated Idaho soil separated from this feeling, and from the people who live art and food as part of who they are. People, who for the first time in my life experience, were much like me.

Breakfast was continental style; bagels, muffins, fruit, juice, and coffee. I piled my little plate and sat down in an empty seat next to Mathew Kimura from Creative Palates. Mathew develops recipes in The Test Kitchen for Canadian Living, the big food magazine in Canada. We connected quickly and he immediately pulled out his portfolio of a few pieces of his work, including his new feature recipe in the magazine. He’s quite a talented and enthusiastic person, and I think we’ll see more of him as the years go on.

After breakfast, we were herded into the main lecture hall for quick introductions and told to choose one of two lectures to attend for every time slot, a photography class and a food styling class. Ugh! I had to choose?? That’s like trying to pick your favorite kid!! “No Tommy, I really do like you the best. Ok maybe I like Sally better.” Do you see the dilemma? I quickly analyzed the situation, and since I had absolutely no food styling experience I had better attend that one.

Laura Shapiro and Alice Hart were the speakers. Alice, stylist and owner of Food for Films was new to me, but I know Laura’s work well. Laura wrote “A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove”, a favorite book of mine about American women’s history in the kitchen. Recently, I shot the Peach Supreme Pie from that work. A coveted family recipe like that needs a picture. I should remember to send it to her.

I didn’t learn too much from that lecture, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Besides, I think I needed a soft entry point as my brain would soon enough leak out of my ears from information overload.

Much too soon it was lunch. What in the world do you feed food stylist, chefs, food photographers, food writers, recipe developers, and food bloggers? Can you imagine that kind of pressure on the staff and planners? They pulled it off beautifully! Lunch was a gorgeous Nicoise salad topped with rare tuna, or Portobello mushrooms for the vegetarian option. Wine and coffee were also served, and the meal was finished with a beautiful little sponge-like cake filled with raspberry mousse and fresh raspberries. It was here I got lucky. I happened to sit at the table with the most wonderful fun group of people! I also met chef Susan Reid and photographer Brenda Hickory from King Arthur Flour at that table, who I would later become fast friends with.

After lunch everyone filed into the main conference auditorium for Global Style with Argentinean food stylist Marcela Sorondo (on the right) and New Zealander/living in London/works all over the world food stylist Clare Ferguson (on the left). I loved this session! Clare’s personality and fun nature shine through her. She makes you want to be her friend. Kind hearted Marcela, a food stylist almost by nature, only called it “food styling” years after she heard the term, and realized it fit with what she was doing. The generous energy emitting from these two amazing women was so powerful and loving, just listening to what they had to say was joyful. I was trying to absorb everything so quickly my brain was started to melt out of my ears! I’m no food stylist, but I often wish I had a few food stylist friends!

I choose the session on sustainable styling next, with corporate stylist Stef Culberson and photographer Mette Nielson. What I learned there is about the huge amount of food wasted in commercial food photography. Their message; keep it small. There’s no need to waste resources to that level. Well honestly, I’ve never had that kind of problem here! However, it was quite an eye opener.

Eventually it was time for dinner. I got lost again of course. Dinner was in a building down and across the street. I spotted a crowd I’d noticed earlier at the conference and found my way to the food! Once inside, I found the King Arthur crowd and joined them. You can’t help but to feel welcome around Susan Reid and Brenda Hickory, and we laughed and laughed. A New England Lobster Dinner was on the menu, and I’ve never had a whole lobster before. I’ve been landlocked my entire life, and who wants old lobster? As I laughed about not being able to crack it open, Susan (on the right) took my plate and cracked the whole thing in less than a minute! That’s her in the picture making faces as she pretends that it’s terribly difficult work. The other picture is me playing with lobster claws. My goal this year is to be more playful with my food photography, does this count?

Susan and Brenda headed out early for a good night’s sleep. That left me to mingle with everyone in the room. I followed my gut and visited countless people, but those who stand out most are Walter Ezell, a new friend who runs Menu Works Inc. in Greenville, North Carolina. Walter felt he needed to tell me not to give up, no matter how many times I hear the word no. When a message comes out of nowhere like that I listen. Thank-you Walter. Chilean photographer Jorge Gonzalez who’s curious intelligence glow in his eyes and show in his voice is another who comes to mind. Also a standout, commercial photographer Greg Bertolini, who looked so bored I made a beeline for him to see what it was about. The look on Greg’s face was so opposite of my curious wonder I struck up a conversation.

Greg Bertolini does commercial photography and has big name clients like Coca Cola. I originally asked him what he did, and couldn’t pull much of an answer out him until he finally admitted this (paraphrased), “Look, I’m five years from retirement so I’m on the downhill slope.” Once we started to talk about something we both loved; Italy (he’s retiring there with his wife in a few years), Vespas (I own one), and art (he has a fine art background); a new Greg came to life. A fun, interesting, playful, animated new friend emerged from this once bored looking human. Greg has the spirit of a true artist, and I hope we get to be friends. He’s really a neat person, and I like him very much. (I found out later Greg wasn't bored, just very shy.)

Sunday arrived, and another day of meeting interesting creative people, attending fascinating classes; like Harold McGee’s talk, Food Style without Boarders about chefs who challenge the line between art and food. As well as an interesting group panel, Growing Your Visual Awareness with Delores Custer, Steve Adams, and Lorna Rhodes, which I recall being fascinating, but my brain was so full by this time I swear it stopped allowing things to be absorbed!

Sadly before I could blink the conference was over! I made a beeline for Susan and Brenda and asked if I could go to dinner with them. Susan used to be a chef in town so who better to hang out with? She took us the The Blue Room in Cambridge. The food was excellent! We shared and passed around our plates. This time Susan didn’t even have to crack a lobster for me! I had sautéed chicken livers, wood grilled sardines, and lambs tongue salad with fingerling potatoes. By time dessert came we might as well have been old friends. Susan picked up the bill to my protest, but I paid her and Brenda back by sneaking them flowers to work this morning.

There are so many more people worth mentioning, but I’ll get to them in other works. For now I better stop writing before this post turns into a novel.

I am grateful for this unique and amazing conference, for the time I got to share with others, for these wonderful new friendships, for the artist energy that renewed my own, for knowing I’m not alone on this food journey anymore, for everything I’ve learned. I hope these friendships will last for the rest of our lives. I really do.

A special thanks to the Washington State police officer who didn’t give me a ticket after all I could say when he pulled me over was, “Yeah, you caught me” and laugh! I hadn’t slept more than 3 hours a night for about a week and the bags under my eyes were about a mile long. Maybe the scene was so funny he couldn’t help but laugh and let me go. Or maybe he felt sorry for me. Either way, I’m ok with that!

Writeup & photography by Laura Flowers. Pictures were taken with a Lumix DCM-LX3 point & shoot camera.


12 comments:

Mary said...

You may pick the shade of green with envy on my face. Laura, I'm just thrilled for you. To attend this kind of conference and be befriended by such pros so early in your career is an incredible blessing.

Ginger said...

WOW!! This conference sounds incrdible! Thank you so much for sharing.

Heather said...

So very cool! Its on my list to go. Thank you for the post and the great info. I would love to talk with you sometime about it.

Helene said...

Oh my so lucky of you to have been able to attend this event.

sherri said...

WOW! Color me impressed! I'm thrilled for you!

girlichef said...

So very cool. This must have been exhilarating and overwhelming at the same time! Thanks for sharing with us :D

Marta said...

Hahaha looks like people really got into those lobsters! This is great Laura, thanks for such a detailed recount of the amazing experience. Wish I could have been there and learn so much!
Thanks!!!!

Pink Little Cake said...

What an a mazing journey!!! thank you for sharing you experience with all of us. Ok, now I am hungry.

foodstylist@mari-loubellefontaine,ca said...

Laura, I had a circuit overload also,however it was with names by Saturday afternoon! It sounds like we attended the same lecture line up...
the conference went beyond my expectation and the tete et tetes for lunch & dinner were the best!
foodstylist@mari-loubellefontaine.ca
from toronto

The Cooking Photographer said...

Hi Mari!

I am glad you posted. I'll send you and email when things slow down here.

Laura

Jorge said...

Laura. I´m the Colombian photographer, Jorge Gonzalez that met you in Boston; I love the blog. And the photographs that you did there are so good. Congratulations again and I´m a new admirer. Jorge.
jhgzona4@gmail.com

The Cooking Photographer said...

Jorge I am so happy you found me!! I sent you an email. :)

Laura

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