No Easy Mode.

I went to South Philly Barbacoa for their First Friday, before meeting my date for dinner at Sate Kampar, to check out the pieces that Isiah Zieglar posted.  They were cool 3D pieces with a lot of facial and hands in them.  They should still be on the walls there unless they were purchased.  Check them out if you can!

While I was waiting for my date to arrive, I met this guy and his mom who came in from the Manayunk area to check out the work and the place.  He told me that he was substitute teaching while he figures his next move since he recently returned from a long stay in Mexico and Cuba.  One thing he mentioned about Cuba stood out as I said that I do want to visit Cuba one of these days.

"People are always saying that they want to go see Cuba before it gets touristy.  It's like they are in destitute porn." Well something along those lines.  People wanting to see it before it becomes just a tourist attraction.  Which he does have a point.  You can read those in the comments about travel to Cuba.  I won't lie, there might have been a part of me that wanted to go see Cuba before it gets flocked with other tourists..

Then he said he was thinking about doing photography full time.  But just didn't know what he wanted to photograph.  So I figured I'd tell him the truth about trying to pursue photography full time.  A note, I am not a full time photographer yet, and I am still struggling to pursue it as full time.  But that doesn't mean I can't give advice and suggestions.

My main point was to do this for the long term.  This changing scape of running a successful photography business, outside of weddings and portraits, means having multiple streams of income, a LOT of hustle, networking, and constant flow of improving work.  Not to mention luck.  But luck is just a very minute percentage, compared to everything else.  It's a simple truth that documentary, photojournalism, and still photography is finding much harder time as a single income these days.  So in order to pursue this full time, it is a 100% hustle with everything else involved.  

But as he didn't know exactly what he wanted to photograph, he spoke about looking to assist.  So I said, contact photographers in the area that he looked up to, to try to assist them.  

As the title says, there is no easy mode in pursuing photography as a career.  It's a very long, slow, and at times aggravating pursuit.  But if you put your head down to the ground and keep on pounding the pavement, who knows you might very well succeed in doing so.  

Faces of Philadelphia

A couple days ago I got an email requesting photographs of some hot spots in Philadelphia for future issue a travel magazine.  One of them was a strong opening photograph of the city. I was in Philadelphia on Wednesday to visit Spot Burgers at the N3rd Market and asked Josh about this.  

"Hey, Josh!  How are you doing?"

"TED!  How are you man?  What are you up to?"

"Not much. Working on a current assignment.  One of the photo requests was an opening photograph of Philadelphia.  And I am at a loss of what and where.  I'd prefer not to submit the cliche, tourist spots.  I'd rather send in something food related.  Maybe I need to look at things with new eyes."

"Sounds tough, man!"

That was rough description of the exchange.  After eating my burger, I had the Rodeo if you were asking, I was still wondering about that photograph.  Even if the editor takes it or I submit one it was one that I wanted to think about.

As I looked through my backlog of photographs of Philadelphia, and looked at all the city and street scenes that I took, I started to think to myself... what and who really brought Philadelphia to what we see it is today?  Food

If you look back ten to fifteen years ago, no one has ever thought of Philadelphia as nothing more than US history and cheese steaks.  Today?  We have exposes in many of the national food publications- Bon Appetit writing Pizzeria Beddia as the state's best pizza, hummus from Dizengoff as the dish of the year, etc.  This is an drastic change from just thinking of Philadelphia as cheesesteak. Which, to be honest, I do not like.

So I thought about the food and how it made a great change in Philadelphia's reputation from the pit stop between NYC and DC.  It is the people who made these dishes.  All the days of toiling in the kitchen to come up with these recipes, the people who grow and produce those ingredients, the people brought ingredients to them, pretty much everyone in front and behind the scenes of every dish. 

As I zipped up my photographs to send over to the editor, I thought about writing this post.  My posts on Exposure, "Portraits of Food in Philadelphia" touches on this, but something that I hope would celebrate in its purpose.  It is these individuals, businesses, hard work, and creativity that has brought Philadelphia back in the forefront of every travel and food destination in the US and globally.  


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.