Maddie Earnest, Local Harvest

St. Louis Taste Makers

I have a fascination with the food culture, which is one of the reasons I jumped at the chance to photograph some of the influential people in the St. Louis food scene for a feature in Feast Magazine. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the people that I photographed for this project was mayor of St. Louis, Francis G. Slay. I also photographed chefs, business owners, architects and sommeliers. I love doing studio portraiture, and this project ties right into my focus on the people who live, breathe, and eat the food industry.

Here are a few of the local food crew I photographed back in December.

You can read interviews of these and the other Tastemakers over at Feast Magazine’s website. Very interesting and well worth the read.

Catherine Neville

Catherine Neville, Publisher of Feast Magazine

If you’ve been following my blog for the last few months, you will have noticed that I’ve been doing a lot of work for Feast magazine here in St. Louis. Feast is one of two excellent food publications that I work with. As a photographer interested in food and food culture, I am lucky to live in a town that has a large enough food community to support all of the great writers, photographers and food lovers that contribute to these publications.

Another of the notable assignments I was given over the last few months was a portrait of Catherine Neville, publisher of Feast. Cat pens a “From the Publisher” column for each issue which is accompanied by a different photograph each month. Many publications use the same image for the editor or publisher each issue. New art each month adds a nice, fresh touch to the magazine. When the photographer who usually shoots the feature was had some scheduling conflicts, I was pleased and flattered when Feast hired me to fill in for a couple of Cat’s portraits.

Cat is a great subject to photograph. Despite her concerns about looking uncomfortable in front of the camera, I’ll be honest: it would be pretty difficult to make a bad photograph of her. Each month she either stands or sits in an interesting chair against a white seamless. The real challenge for this portrait was finding an appropriate chair for the sitting versions. As I’ve mentioned in the past, we don’t have a lot of furniture in the studio yet, and after trying a number of different chairs (including one I borrowed from the lobby of my building), Cat suggested that we try my psuedo-modern-wobbily-Ikea coffee table. It turned out to be a great idea. Beautiful!

I have been doing a lot of studio portraits lately (including an exciting project that I’m wrapping up this week) and have really been joying working with people again for a change. I love shooting food, but do you have any idea how hard it is to make a bowl of soup smile?

Office Buildout: DIY Tables

The last couple of days I have been working my hands to the bone building out the office in my studio. After much consultation with my father, I designed and built two large worktables/desks in my office. One for me, and one for Xina when she chooses to work at home. Let me just say that I enjoyed the planning stages and the phone calls with my dad much more than the actual construction. Since I wasn’t able to build the tables with my dad in his well outfitted woodshop, I had to build them in my studio. Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly grateful that I have enough space to build an 8 foot table in my studio, but lacking power tools, it was a challenge.

I purchased the wood for the project at a local lumberyard rather than going to a big box store as I’d originally planned. The wood itself was slightly more expensive, but they didn’t charge me to make all of the numerous cuts that I was unable to do at home. The other advantage was that the location was much closer to my apartment than any of the big box stores. My little Subaru isn’t quite large enough to hold an 8 foot piece of plywood tabletop, so I had to stick it out from the back and drive veeeery slowly and carefully back home.

I’d figured out all the dimensions and the pieces needed with the much needed help from my dad. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this on my own – my own plans were really terrible and dad was able to help me design something that actually worked. He even took the time to send me some notes. If you need DIY table plans, this set of instructions should be all you need (along with some math skills).

Instructions for how to design a DIY table

Once I had all of the individual pieces back home, I set up a camera, planning to do a time lapse movie of the project. After the first 20 minutes of frustration and anger I realized that the pressure of the camera watching me screw up was adding to the stress of the project so I turned it off. So sorry, no film. Construction essentially consisted of taking the pre-cut lumber, making some cross-cuts by hand and assembling all of the pieces. Here’s what I learned about myself during this process: no amount of careful measurement, combination squares and fancy Japanese pull saws are enough for me to make a straight cut. Seriously, as anal retentive I am, I was completely and utterly unable to make straight cuts with a saw. Each cut was consistently at a 2-3 degree angle from plum. Which made everything very difficult. One day I’ll buy a circular saw and be done with it.

Day one was the larger of the two tables, and day two was the smaller one. By day two I thought I’d figured out some of what I did wrong on day one, so set about the second table much more deliberately. While I was able to correct the mistakes from the first table, I realized that everything else that worked for the first table was apparently luck, and luck was not with me on the second table. Despite the 4x4s fighting me (one in particular had a grudge against me apparently because it was a complete pain in the ass) I was able to get the tables built – they are stable and feel very solid. Both tables are done and functional, and don’t look that bad mainly due to the nice birch plywood tabletops which cover up most of the mistakes. And let me tell you, going for and 8 foot table versus a four foot table is very liberating. Eight feet of lovely workspace!

I am exhausted, my entire body is sore and my hands are covered with blisters. But on the upside, I now have a usable desk/worktable in my office. I think I’ll wait on building a cyc wall until I can afford to hire a carpenter or maybe convince my dad to come visit. Here is what the larger of the two tables looks like all set up like a big boy office:

The office is starting to feel official finally. We even have a conference table! Which is our old dinner table, re-purposed as a work table. But I can, you know, have conferences! Have I mentioned lately how much better this it to my former cubicle existence?