Behind the Scenes (Oyster Consomme)

Nobody gets to see the craziness that goes on behind certain posts. (So many e-mails and comments full of curiosity..how it’s being done, who is doing it..are there 10 people behind this blog?? Does she have a personal chef, photographer, seamstresses, 4 assistants..) Hard hustling. That is all. Ideas are just coward projections, but the real work is grimy, hard, messy, complicated..you get the idea. I think one of the main reasons that motivates me to do this kind of work is that mediocrity is so incredibly abundant right now. I know that I can do mediocre work, the answer is easy, the process predictable. But this kind of work requires a lot of hard thinking, lots of planning, and painstaking physical work. I never want to take the easy way out, I want to create for people who have already seen and have everything. Most importantly, I always want to tell a good story, you’ll notice with all of my posts, there is a beginning middle and end.  We don’t have a campfire but we have an internet connection. And everyone likes a good story.

I planned to do this behind the scenes post, and I took my iphone everywhere to document some process shots. But I made sure to ask the editorial staff at Nowness first, there was one very kind lady named Fiona who I was working with, and I was pretty sure she’d say no. I was very surprised when she said, yes go ahead, and she even added that she herself was curious to how I was able to do this. I have to admit, I’m always unsure whether or not to do behind the scenes posts like this, I don’t want to ruin anybody’s fantasies. But sometimes I think it’s interesting to see, and this will probably be the first and last time I do this.

It all started out with an e-mail from the kind editorial staff. I sent them a drawing of my plans first, they approved, and of course I was excited to do this. The most important feedback was given to me at this time though. They said that I should focus more on the transformation of food through cooking rather than direct action shots, they also told me push the brakes on including myself. This small amount of feedback was crucial, and I feel like I owe them something for having said it to me, it pushed a new reality into my work. Instead of just shooting a ton of images, I knew I had to be quick and clever on the attack. If the work looks different for this, and if you tend to like these photos better it’s probably because they gave me this guidance.

Three sketches sent, but I already knew which one they were going to choose. They asked me to just write out ideas, but again, I wanted to show them what I wanted to build, my ideas have a 3-dimensional aspect to them.

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Main rule for doing work for others, you have to push yourself 3*4 times harder than you do for yourself because it’s for someone else. If you’re not willing to leave more on the table than what they give you, then your intentions are already polluted. I knew what I could do for my website, but I also knew Nowness is owned and operated by LVMH so I felt very insecure that I couldn’t deliver. For three days straight, everything stopped. No going to the studio, pushed back orders, no thinking about anything else but this. My days: drove, bought food, cooked, shot, ran errands, and edited photos, the only thing on my mind was getting this together. Mentally, physically emotionally I was ready to pull out all the stops. No detail would be left uncovered.

Story boarding was in order, first time doing this. I never plan actions shots but again I had to be quick on the attack, no time for childish behavior. Took an incredible amount of force though, naturally, I’m very childish!

There are two important components that go into any kind of creation, doesn’t matter if it’s a piece of clothing, or art. These consist of the works’ formal elements (how it looks) and functional elements (how you eat, use or view it). I already had a vision for this project when it came to its formal aspects. I wanted there to be a feeling of weightlessness, suspension, that things would be floating around lightly. Caviar pearls floating, egg drip shots that are suspended mid air, everything had to have a very light handed feel, very anti-gravity. The functional aspect of this would be to fulfill a desire to eat, we all have to eat don’t we? The final work would have to be delicious and edible. But why not take such a common ritual as eating oysters and re-visit it, deconstruct it’s base flavor elements rebuild it into something unrecognizable but still so familiar. This is always the line I like to walk, right in between the mundane and new. It is very easy to go either way, anybody can be either weird or normal but to walk the line between both is much more challenging.

Embroidery done at the studio. Pfaff machines are the only ones I use for clothing and sometimes leather, sewing professional level clothing, you have no room for homemade looking garments or bags. Industrial machines are also ever present at my studio. The embroidery for this was difficult, because I only use embroidery sporadically, I don’t like decorative embroidery all over clothes, looks so bad. Figuring out this machine took about 4-5 hours, cause of Google, I forget everything a minute later? Mother says if I’m already switching into early Alzheimer’s in my mid twenties that she fears for my end. I fear too. I like to use this embroidery machine for titling though. I had already planned to include cocktail cloth napkins, this was the one chance to brand and title. Devil’s in the details, as they say. Truer words couldn’t be spoken.

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I tested out some fonts, didn’t end up using this one. Too warm. The feeling of this project would be cool clean crisp and dark, visually craving something haunting but detached.

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Drove deep into NJ to get dry ice for the shoot. Got two 17×17 inch boxes of dry ice. Why two for one picture? Because you never know when you’ll get the money shot, and you might run out. I’ve had experience with dry ice before. This guy was so nice though, packaged my dry ice boxes and brought it out to my car.

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Next challenge, the ice block. I drew the sketch just from my mind. But how does something from your mind become real? I asked myself why I drew this when I wasn’t sure it was possible. But if I could think it, that means it is possible, the doubts were cowardice. I drove again to some random place to go to a glass house in nyc… I asked them, no begged, to make me a glass tank, since there is no mold I need for this project out there- they said it wasn’t possible but I told them it’s not for function, it’s just for some water to mold into it so all it needed was some glue, I saw the guys face turn negative to positive, my convincing switched him. This place only cuts and sells tables for glass, so they looked at me like I was crazy of course. Didn’t care though, a genuine smile and a credit card solves most issues.

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Life, a two way street. You be genuinely nice to other people, and they’ll most likely hustle for you too, physical vibes like your gait, facial expressions and your tone of voice speak harder than sentences, to get what you need to get done you can only be in a happy vibe. Subconscious decisions are already made on the opposite party before you try to convince  them. If you’re in a bad mood or you’re angry all day, other people will just pray for your failure. This guy not only built my tank for this project but also placed two wood blocks in between glass ditch so that these edges stayed straight and even. I could see he put his emotions into building this tank, the evidence trapped in the final result. The glue was barely dry but I was high on life! This was what I had been worried about, and the most important part of this project would now be possible. Back in the car, driving, smiling hard, and blasting Gucci Mane. Onto the next struggle.

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Glass tank built, now I had to figure out how the heck I was going to get this ice mold out clean. Also had to build molds on the top so that the glass could sit inside. Measured everything out.

My friend who works in my building is someone I have a personal relationship with. His 12 year old daughter comes over and I make her food sometimes and I play ipad games with her (Plants vs Zombies? Know it?).. so whenever I need anything he helps me out. I had to cut these plastic molds to sit inside the ice, so it could hold the shot glasses, got these at the container store but the jars were way too high, so the freezer wasn’t shutting…they had to be cut down. Drove to my studio to cut it myself on an electric blade, but the blade detached, and since he does maintenance work for the building he has some machines downstairs. He was the only person who could help me. Went down, had him cut the plastic, enjoyed some conversation, and placed these into the ice mold.

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Felt so bad for him, these were hard to cut by hand, I had the electric blade but it broke…so sad.

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The plastic molds were dropped into the ice tank, so this is where the little shot glasses would be secured, little inset section. Before they were placed inside, everything was measured out. The most challenging part was getting my hardware into the ice (the luxirare label). It kept moving around, but finally got it to sit straight. I wanted it to be inside the ice so it’s kind of ghostly looking..

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Cylindrical molds for the caviar, got to keep that caviar cold! These were also challenging, because I had to create insets so the metal containers could sit inside. Patience, my friend.

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Table setting up, organizing, testing compositions. Wish I could smell nice like perfume, but instead I smell like Windex? Kind of sexy? No..yes? I have to keep cleaning these tables over and over, because sometimes I mess up shots, or I spill something. Doing this kind of work, it helps if you have OCD tendencies. I always have my lens always hovering around too, switching between 50 and macro for close up and general composition shots.

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Shooting more.

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Gigs of photos being streamed into my computer. This is probably my least favorite part, because the worst is when you have to figure out which are the ‘shots’ to edit, and which are not. I always want to choose every single one, but the power of editing is to reduce. I end up posting too many photos I think, one of my weaknesses is choosing too much. My eyes are always strained during this process because there are simply too many photos to look at.

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Everything started to come together, but still insecure- most of the shooting was done, but money shots were on the wait. Didn’t matter that 99% of the shots were already edited waiting to be uploaded, that 1% was going to make or break. Shot the eggs, tomatoes, the consomme, consomme in the fridge waiting to be poured…In every photo shoot around here there are process shots and money shots. Money shots are the ‘bang’ or whatever, if you can’t climax at a photo shoot then that’s total failure, shots captured prior rendered irrelevant. No such thing as trying, you either did or you didn’t..Win-lose, guilty-innocent, black-white, work-play, no grays. Three ice molds sitting in the freezer for the caviar too, had to wait just a day to solidify.  The money shot for this editorial was going to be that final presentation shot, with all the shots presented on the ice mold. Practical execution of the ice tank still shifty, I wasn’t sure if it was going to work, knew that it would have to slide out after the block started to melt away from the mold..warm towels had to steam the sides a little bit. Deep down my mind was already made up though. Subconsciously confident, consciously insecure. Subconscious feelings are the real ones, of course. The ice mold will work, doesn’t matter if it breaks, I’ll just try again and again again and again again and again.

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One of the things about technology is automation. I don’t ever edit photos manually clicking buttons here and there, that’s childish behavior. I usually set up ‘actions’ where you can record whatever you’re doing to the photo. I hate overly photoshopped images, so all I usually do is resize, brighten exposure, color balance, save the image, and close it. Actions allow you to do all this with the click of 1 mouse button, instead of 5 different clicks.  Sometimes photos have to edited manually though.

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Final night, stayed up all night- had to edit the final money shots, due next morning, .. Already guilt soaked in a day’s delay because the ice mold took longer to harden, felt my integrity chipping away a little. Edited and loaded the photos onto their server all night until 5 am, by 6 am I passed out. Timing, perfect. I stumbled out of my dream haze to my computer… ready to pull out any second but………..it ain’t over till it’s over…….. Making coffee and final stages of e-mailing recipes and writing captions in Microsoft Word were in order, I knew I had to pull through and focus hard. At about 11 am everything was confirmed, ready to go. Now it was time to pull out, mentally physically emotionally… Felt so free, sunglasses off. The ending is near, but my work was done. Fearing the ending, cause endings just a beginning to another set of pains.

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Monday morning, images went live on the nowness website. So humbled to see my work on there! But all those nights and days of hard shooting, reading photo books, practicing, editing, I was finally ready to take on this challenge. Never studied photography but when I started, the more I learned, the more I wanted to know? Does that make sense? Like if I could do one thing, how far could I go? So I just kept going and going and going…. So grateful they asked me when I was ready to deliver. But, that feeling of happiness, so elusive, barely graspable. Onto the next struggle now!

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