You do you, unless you want to be a photographer.

Since my last post, I finally was able to meet Penny De Los Santos and take her workshop up in NYC, went to California, and posted a ton of photographs onto Exposure.  I am not sure why I came back from California on Monday, but I did.  I pretty much abhor snow and winter.  

Then I read a story from Bridget Eldrige Photography about her time with Foundation Workshop.  And thought about some thoughts that were passed around, while I have been pursuing this photography work.  One thought was, "be yourself." Now everyone says, "be yourself" which is all well and good.  But not entirely good if you are a photographer.  Well specifically, an introverted photographer like myself and Bridget, in the provided link.  One of the key non-technical things that make or break photography is connection.  I don't mean the subjects in the photo, but that in itself also makes a stronger and compelling photograph.  But I mean between photographer and subject, specifically live beings- people and animals.  Food? I don't know photographer and subject is relevant for that.  

For introverts, it is hard to open up and just talk to people, let alone allowing them to open up to you as a photographer.  So that's what I mean by being yourself as a photographer doesn't necessarily cut it.  If you are wondering what Foundation Workshop is, it's a workshop on wedding photojournalism.  They throw the students into an in depth situation for them to document, which doesn't have to do with weddings.  The goals of Foundation, as the name implies, is to create a foundation of strong visual story telling.  You need to know all the technical aspects of photography prior to come out of it better.  But then again, why would you be spending $4k or so of hard earned money if you didn't know how to use your camera?

Creating a connection with the people, or animals, that you are photographing is one of the top traits that need be able to conjure up in seconds.  That is if you want to be a successful photographer.  

Knowing that this is an issue for myself, I have been since trying to strike up small talk and discussion with anyone.  So far it is going alright. I do realize that I am much more talkative to strangers, if I am traveling.  I have to say that, that while I love the in the moment photographs, but those in the moment photographs are stronger and freeing if there was a connection made between the photographer and people you are photographing.  

But, man, it is hard!  I just want to go in make some photographs and head on out of there.  Just like with my realization with my personal project, in order for me to make a story more compelling is to get them to open up about themselves.   

That's what I got when I read Bridget's blogpost, talking to people really helps make your images better.  Being serious here. 

Anyway, as mentioned, I recently came back from California.  Still beating myself up here for coming back.  I was out there babysitting my nephew Vincent for the week.  As with every time I am out there, I ponder to myself what am I doing.  Or well, what am I doing staying in the East coast?

So what do you think?  What areas do you think you are falling short in being whom you want to be?

Projects and work

I have been posting my projects and stories on my Exposure, so go over there to read them in detail.  I will summarize them here.  A lot of the photographs you see on my portfolio came from these projects and adventures.  So here's what you should be reading..

Dung Tran of Thang Long Philly

Dung Tran of Thang Long Philly

My current long term project, "In Search of Little Saigon in America." This project is one that is close to my heart.  As a Vietnamese American, I live a dual role of being both American and Vietnamese.  Because of that dual role, and there is a reason why I wrote American before Vietnamese, I, as with my brothers, focused on being Americans first, was not fully embracing my roots in Vietnam.  So pursuing this project has been helping me get to know my roots and understand the change that many Vietnamese refugees had to face when coming to America.  But also how the methods of cooking and sourcing ingredients for Vietnamese food has, potentially, changed. 

Cristina Martinez of South Philly Barbacoa

Cristina Martinez of South Philly Barbacoa

Not a personal project, but a food culture story that I pursued and finished.  I named the piece "Illegal Food."  Not because the food itself is illegal, rather the one who makes it is according to our current immigration laws.  Hispanics, who make up most of the group who America considers illegal immigrants, make up the major backbone force of our hospitality and agricultural industry.  Without them, those industries would not only be less profitable but short staffed.  And yet they do not have any work rights, constantly belittled, under constant threats from health, politics, economics, and social factors. 

David of Seoul Full Philly food truck

David of Seoul Full Philly food truck

Being close to Philadelphia, I have been going around exploring the food in the city.  As a way to put faces and stories behind the food that we eat here, I made an ongoing series on my Exposure called "Portraits of Food in Philadelphia." You can discover the individual shops that I have explored and photographed with that sub heading. 

Special soft shell crab pita from Dizengoff on Sansom Street

Special soft shell crab pita from Dizengoff on Sansom Street

Along with my roaming "Portraits of Food in Philadelphia" posts is an indulgence guide to Philadelphia.  I call it "Treat yo'self Philly." Probably not as hardcore and stringent as many food reviewers, but it lists the places that I have gone to and enjoyed.  Much so that I think that the visitors of Philadelphia would too. 

Food Culture. The why that should be your focus on food photography.

It's not that I forgot to write actual stories on this blog, it is that I prefer to put them all on my Exposure site since they are photo intense.  This post is more written word driven, however that is no excuse as this is supposed to be my photography portfolio work.

When you look at your instagram feed (add me!) you see a plethora of instagrams of what someone made or ate.  Being a food and culture photographer, I do it too, not judging just saying.  A lot of amazing looking food that has been made and about to be eaten.  At least I hope will be eaten.  Please don't waste your food. 

Cristina Martinez of South Philly Barbacoa from my story, " Illegal Food ."

Cristina Martinez of South Philly Barbacoa from my story, "Illegal Food."

My question for you though, and to those who take those pictures, do you know the story behind the food you are taking a picture of?  Have you asked or tried to listen to the story of the people behind it?  That is something more important to have photographed then just the meal itself- the personal story of how that food you just bought or made to your mouth.  More and more, food publications are running photographs of just the food as if our attention is only on the dish or what food is trending this season.  Instead of the people who made the food.  Not just that celebrity chef that everyone is gawking over, but there needs to be more images and stories of the people who help make it possible.  The growers, pickers, butchers, all the way to the waiter/waitress to just put the meal down for you to enjoy.

Tim Weckerle working for the Weckerlys Ice Cream at a night market inPhiladelphia.

Tim Weckerle working for the Weckerlys Ice Cream at a night market inPhiladelphia.

When I look at some of the latest trends in food and styling, it looks more like food is being put on a "pedestal" or is so deconstructed that I start to wonder is this food or an art set piece?  Don't get me wrong, I think the ones I have seen are beautiful and everyone has their own vision of food.  I just pursue food photography, differently, where culture plays a bigger role than art.  That sounds like a cop out. Food journalism and photography, along with many other forms of writing and photography as a living, is a privilege

David of Seoulfull Philly food truck.

David of Seoulfull Philly food truck.

I had a brief discussion with a friend food writer about this as well, and she brought up the fact that privilege, hinders the diversity of food and travel writing.  The way I see it, when food is photographed in a way that it looks like it being put on a pedestal, I see privilege.  But when I read and see images and stories that include the history and story of the people behind said dish, I see the writer/photographer trying to further his/her understanding of that dish is being made and how it got to them to document.  

If you ever asked why my portfolio looks more of the people who prepped, made, and brought out the food than just the food itself, it is because I think food photographs are about the people behind the dish.