I left Seattle on Saturday night amidst the rabid fervor of a city whose excitement for their team’s opportunity to play for a Super Bowl berth here in my part of the world was bordering on mass hysteria. Flags and jerseys were on everything from grandmas to children to Chihuahuas…Seattle itself was emblazoned in blue and green. The football fan in me was getting stoked but the Giants fan in me was green with envy.
I was back in Seattle to broadcast another 18 hours of live photography instruction on the education website, creativeLIVE.com. I have done 2 other stints here in Seattle over the past 8 months and this time it was to teach a 3-Day class in Table Top Photography Fundamentals. The first couple of times around I was fully in my wheelhouse teaching Food Photography and Styling, talking about Narrative Storytelling and building and using a Light Table. In preparing for these first classes my notes and anecdotes came very naturally, like the natural light in my studio. The experiences I was recounting were from a place where I have had my greatest successes and felt confident and sure of my ability to deliver.
These next instructional hours came from a very different place. It was pretty evident to my producer, Meg Gayman, that I was not initially thrilled with straying from my original intent to teach more Advanced Techniques in Food Photography. I wanted to stay in my comfort zone and that did not fit the plan that she and Head of Content Craig Swanson had for me. It was going to be Table Top, aimed at a very different audience and I was going to have to dig deep to make it work. My notes and anecdotes did not flow so freely this time. Carving and crafting this material to fit into 18 hours of walking the wire without a net felt much scarier this time around. If last time was a labor of love…this time I felt uneasy, like I did in my early years in education, teaching sex-ed to a room full of smirking teenagers. Thankfully, when it was over, I was exhausted but no longer scared and felt even more rewarded than the first time around. Meg and Craig pushed me further than I have been pushed professionally in quite a while and I am better for the experience. I think our content hit the mark and will stay with our audience for a long while.
Meg, of course, was not alone in ushering me to this place…which leads me back to football in Seattle. Those maniacal fans have a nickname that has gone viral lately and will be on full display these weeks leading to that coveted Super Bowl appearance that the ‘Hawks earned last night with a thrilling victory over their arch-rival 49ers. They are called the 12th Man. For you football novices, the game is played with 11 per side and the fans in Seattle…because of their noise and wild support have adopted the 12th Man moniker. This reflects how their super fandom has led their team to the best home record in the NFL over the past 2 seasons. The team fully acknowledges that they have indeed been inspired and sometimes even aided by the crowd noise. It played out again in last night’s game. The Seattle creativeLIVE Crew was most definitely my personal 12th Man during this past week.
I was still pretty unsteady about this workshop until I walked into the office on Tuesday and then something profound happened. I relaxed. I saw the familiar faces of those I have worked with and some I just know from the casual interactions at the studio. That pressure I felt to carry the show went away with the knowledge that my 12th Man had my back. Everywhere I turned there was someone there to insure the success of these 3 days. From production to camera to sound to catering everyone was on my page. Again, my thanks come directly from the heart. I truly love working with such amazing professionals who are as easy to like, as they are to work with.
With affection and gratitude:
Thanks of course to Arlene, George, Amanda and Celeste for having such confidence in me to keep bringing me back to Seattle.
Meg- Thank you for being a force under that little voice and sweet smile. It didn’t fool me for one second. You are a hurricane and I’m glad you are on our team.
Craig- Thanks for pushing me. One can only know what we are capable of once we get to the edge.
Lindsay- I felt reassured every time I looked over at you off set. Our conversations always made me feel like just being myself on camera would never betray me.
John- I cannot express fully what your presence there meant to me. You were kind of the deal breaker…I’m not sure I would have ever had been as comfortable with this material without you.
Darcy- The set only happens to look like a place familiar and comfortable for me to work in because of your vision and sensitivity. Thank you so much for taking the time and putting in the careful effort to give me my tools. Your input was invaluable.
Kate- sourcing and wrangling all of that gear was by no means a small endeavor. We navigated every issue seamlessly and that was in big part to how hard you worked to get us prepared.
Dan’Yelle- your instincts for styling and propping were only matched by your efficiency. You kept me moving, hydrated and happy on set. You were the glue (or the gaffers tape)
Jim & Cathy- you both are so much fun to work with. Striking that balance between education and entertainment is never easy but it comes so naturally to you both. You guys were my screen pass…I could always go to it when I was in trouble.
Will, Willy, Sam, Tracy, Noah, Boone and Riley- thanks for making it look dynamic and as beautiful as humanly possible with a middle-aged bald man for a subject. You guys really do operate in Beast Mode.
Kellen- in spite of your epic miscalculation of playing One Direction in Studio A when the father of a teenage girl is trying to get in a good head space…you still make me smile and I love how you work. The sound was terrific in spite of me smacking the mic constantly.
Caitlin- whenever anyone sneaks up on me from now on I will expect one of you to be behind me with a LAV, some tape and about 3 seconds to get it done.
Thanks also to go Tyler in the booth. The sound when we had 6 people on set talking could not have been an easy navigation.
Thanks to Nikoma for making me significantly less shiny. I sat next to Snooki on the plane ride home and wondered how we were on the opposite spectrum of what people in your field have to deal with.
Carolyn- having specific needs, especially my food needs met when working is so important… thanks for putting up with yet another pain in the neck eater.
Thanks to our students: Paola, Katherine, Natalia, Robert, Mike, Leah and Danielle. It is always so refreshing to have smart, energetic people in front of me when I am teaching. I know it cannot be easy to sit there, on camera for that long and look interested, engaged and excited. I am honored to have had you all in this class. You were all wonderful and your work on Day 3 was outstanding.
And to everyone else at cL that I see and speak to and joke and bond with, thanks. You make Seattle feel like home.
You are all certainly my personal 12th Man.
I’ll be heading back out to Seattle next week, January 16-18, to take on another 18 hours of live instruction at creativeLIVE.com.
This time I’ll be teaching a course about the fundamentals of table top photography with a special emphasis on product photography…which has always been one of those extensions of food photography for me.
Enroll for FREE! And then…if you can’t think about life without me living in your hard drive or iPad…then of course… buy the course. See you there.
creativeLIVE posted this 30 min. clip of my class on Youtube which contains some very important information for anyone thinking about doing food photography for a living. It includes my “10 Questions You Need to Ask a Client Before Taking a Job”. The entire talk and the course are now on sale for the holidays. Hope you enjoy it.
Julia Moskin and Melissa Clark compiled all of the essentials for a successful Thanksgiving Feast in this sprawling NYT interactive. We shot for a week and then ate like it was already the holidays. Go check out all the goodies before you plan your holiday meals.
I spoke at the FORK launch party a few months back. Fork is a new social media app for people who love to take pictures of food. Check it out here .
I receive a lot of messages through the various media outlets I participate in. The overwhelming majority of them are from people that are interested in learning more about food photography because of my role as workshop instructor and writer. I welcome the inquiries about upcoming events and the quick questions about cameras or lighting techniques. Most of the people who reach out are just like I was about 12 years ago…looking to reinvent themselves.
I also get the occasional college student or recent grad looking to hone their skills further or a pro shooter from a different discipline looking for some advice on how to tweak their approach for food. Mostly adults looking to find what they need to make a career or advance a hobby in food photography.
Then there was Sabriina Costa. I do not know Sabriina…she was just an email address and a request for some help which I gladly gave her. She sent me an email, like lots of others I get for a quick bit of advice about how to pick some equipment and how to diffuse light in a way appropriate for food. She did some research on the web, found me, looked at my work and decided I would be a good guy to ask. This all seemed pretty normal to me until the follow up email I got this week.
Sabriina Costa is a student at Westbourne Grammar School in Melbourne, Australia. She is 15 years old and decided to write and photograph a cookbook about her family and traditions and in particular the recipes of her Nonna. She took on this project, from what I could gather from her emails, with her grandmother about a year ago as a school assignment. What it has morphed into is an amazing testament to her love for her family. She has dedicated the project to the memory of her grandfather, her Nonno, who passed away from cancer in 2006. She is selling her book online and will be donating 100% of the proceeds to the Cancer Council.
As many of you may already know my blog was created in the memory of my Sicilian great-grandmother, who we called Mama. I helped Sabriina not really knowing what she was trying to do but the realization of what she has accomplished and what led her there sent chills up my spine.
The book is called Segreti Della Nostra Cucina or Secrets from Our Kitchen. I love this title. It speaks to the passion and intimacy that a true Italian kitchen really has. It reminds me of what I love about the way I learned how to cook. It makes me feel that the connection I feel to the foods of my childhood and the people I shared them with is a universal emotion. These feeling go to the core of why I do what I do. It is obviously what has driven Sabriina to do the same. I am more than happy to help her raise money for cancer…something I have my own intimate experience with since my mother, Terry, is a 12-year survivor. I am also quite impressed with the writing and photography in her book.
I am honored to have played even the smallest part in helping her produce a work so filled with love for people and a culture so similar to the things that inspired me and my career. Buy her book…it’s money well spent.