ON ASSIGNMENT: ST MARY’S COLLEGE ANNUAL REPORT

Brenda Martinez - St Mary's College of California Alumni
How’s that for a dramatic sky?

St. Mary’s College of California sent me and my team on assignment to photograph Brenda Martinez for an alumni profile in their 2014 annual report. Brenda is a sixth Grade teacher in Western NY who runs a bilingual classroom as part of the Teach for America Program. Having taught in San Francisco and Mexico prior to taking her current position in Buffalo while she works on her masters, St Mary’s wanted an image that took Brenda out into the landscape of the region she now calls home. Though she’s a native of the far warmer climate of Pittsburgh, California, Brenda was more than happy to tough out a very windy autumn day on the shore of Lake Erie to get this shot.

Our location that evening was Wilkeson Pointe, a spot just outside of the city that’s recently been turned into a great public green space that includes paths and wind powered sculptures – it’s definitely one of the nicer places in the city to catch a great sunset. Despite the beauty of the shoreline at the Pointe that day, It was tricky working with the strong winds that were coming off the water, but thankfully we were able to set up some screens and wait for brief breaks in the gusts to make sure her hair wasn’t blowing all over the place – the result was this image that’s calm, but still has a beautiful sense of movement to it.

THE FOOD TRUCK: BETTY CROCKSKI

Kate Hey of the Betty Crockski food truck in Buffalo, NY

Don’t tell my fiancée, but I’m carrying on a passionate affair with a very special lady – she’s boxy, red, and weighs about eight tons. Her name is Betty, and she makes the most amazing pierogi (she’s also a truck, but don’t judge – the heart wants what the heart wants).

Polish food means comfort for a lot of people in Buffalo, NY – pierogi, bigos, and golabki were regular appearances on a lot of tables. Even if we didn’t grow up Polish, a lot of us fondly remember eating these dishes at friends’ homes or picking them up at the Broadway Market around Easter as part of the melange of Eastern European, German, Italian, African-American, and Irish influences that much of this city was built upon. Yet for a town so steeped in Polish heritage it seems that there are only few a places that still serve these traditional tastes with any regularity (Peter K’s and Gadawski’s come to mind) and fewer still who have built upon these traditional takes to elevate and refine them into something truly special (The Black Sheep’s pierogi come to mind). Betty Crockski is straddling both sides of this line and bringing their own take on pierogi back to the streets of Buffalo.

The company’s proprietors, Kate Hey and Dana Szczepaniak, officially launched the truck, appropriately enough, on Dyngus Day 2014. Prior to this Dana had been working as CPA in New York City and Kate was working in marketing back in Buffalo, but some casual discussions at a Memorial Day party in 2013 quickly led to the pair writing a business plan and found Dana moving back to Western New York. Over the next eleven months the concept behind the truck and the recipes slowly developed. “We always knew we were starting a Polish food truck, both because of our backgrounds, but because we realized that Buffalo needed one badly. WNY has the highest concentration of Polish-Americans outside of Chicago, and there’s a strong sense of Polish Heritage here. We have the largest Dyngus Day celebration in the country, and we see it out in the community when people come to the truck and see our family names and tell us ‘I used to cut your uncle’s hair'” Kate told me after her portrait session. Long nights making test batch after test batch of pierogi for friends followed, becoming the method by which Kate was able to refine and finalize the recipes the truck served when it launched; Betty Crockski soon became regarded as one of the most exciting members of Buffalo’s young food truck community.

As part of their pre-launch process, the girls took a research slash eat-your-way-across-all-of-Poland trip to the old country to get a taste of some of the nation’s most famous restaurants as well as some now notorious upstarts that are completely reinterpreting the Polish food tradition. The trip wasn’t so much a revelation as it was a confirmation of what Kate described to me as Betty Crockski’s philosophy on Polish cooking – “We try to celebrate local ingredients and culture, as well as fill in the blanks in the polish dining scene here in Buffalo that’s very focused on the a mid-century style Polish-American approach to cooking and preparation. We had our own ideas and vision about what these dishes could be and were totally vindicated by our trip when we saw that these great polish chefs were already acting along these similar lines of thought and had been for a long time.” Dana added “We got to see so many different facets of both the traditional and contemporary Polish food scenes, not just from eating, but from being invited into restaurant and home kitchens and being taught the way someone’s father makes pierogi, or a contemporary style of making golabki that gets away from the low-and-slow traditional pantry style and takes a fresher, brighter, and quicker approach.” A food tour of Warsaw hosted by Magda from the blog Eat Warsaw turned out to be one of the high points of the trip, not just because of the food they experienced, but because of the context and history it provided about the evolution of dining out in Poland.

Dana Szczepaniak from The Betty Crockski Polish Food truck - serving homed pierogi and sausage in Buffalo, NY

The truck’s menu is small and perfect. Four kinds of pierogi: A cheese variety that blends local chèvre, farmer’s cheese, and BellaVitano; one that marries a mix of caramelized sauerkraut and house pickled plum in a bourbon glaze; a meystard braised pulled pork pierogi, and a spicy potato filed option with white cheddar and herb butter. This selection is punctuated by regular seasonal specials, like a turkey and walnut sage stuffing filled pierogi with boozy pickled cranberries, and bigos – a traditional polish hunter’s stew (think Poland’s answer to chili, where everyone has their own family recipe or twist they like to put on the dish pulling from their own experiences and tastes). They also feature their own fresh Polish kielbasa spiced with ginger, caraway, and marjoram.

There’s one other element in this Polish comfort food equation that diverges a bit from the Polish traditions that the truck sprung from, one that leads in a decidedly German direction. Betty Crockski sells this absolutely addictive mustard – they call it “Meystard” (and I call it “German Heroin”) and that name ties into almost 80 years of Buffalo food history. Kate’s family was the proprietor of the legendary Carl Meyer’s Hof, a German restaurant that was the first tavern in Buffalo to serve beer from old kegs. And while the restaurant has been gone since the early 80’s, the mustard served alongside the pierogi and sausage on the truck is the same homemade recipe that the Hof served for decades. Thankfully you can buy some to take home to help with the withdrawal you’ll start to experience when you can’t make it to the truck (or to go along with Betty’s new take-home packs of frozen pierogi).

If you aren’t one of the dedicated few who’s willing to brave a food truck in the deathly cold of a Buffalo winter (and if you aren’t, what are you doing in this city?) Kate and Dana shared some good news with me: Starting in February they’re going to be partnering with the South Side Social and Athletic Club to do a small weekly Saturday menu of small dishes. Less a pop-up and more of a gourmet Polish happy hour, it’s going to be something of a lab for the Betty team to experiment with new recipes and try out what Dana calls “bar food, Betty style” in one of Buffalo’s oldest South-Side neighborhoods.

Betty’s may still just be emerging from their first very successful year in business, but they’ve already become an important part of both the food and cultural landscape of Buffalo. I’ve hung out on the truck with Dana and Kate during a service in the course of this project and I’ve gotten to see people absolutely light up when they have their first bite of one of Betty’s pierogi and then stand by the truck’s window and chat with other diners about their own childhood connections to Polish food in Buffalo and abroad. I’ve gotten to hear Dana’s stories about tracking down the perfect cheese for their pierogi, and after so many iterations, finding the perfect one produced locally by First Light Creamery by pure chance once day. While these stories are important, this isn’t just a chronicle of prepping sausage and making pierogi dough at two a.m., which is fascinating in its own right – but is quickly transforming into a story of how a sense of adventure and risk allowed such a new business to be integral in reconnecting a city to one of its most important culinary heritages.

UPGRADING TO THE MAMIYA 645 DF+

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I’m the first to hate on photo blogs that obsess about new gear, pixel peeping, and how wonderful the latest and greatest new thing is, so let me immediately acknowledge that for a few brief moments I’m about to break my own rules.

Now that we have that out of the way I can share some really exciting news.

I made a big investment in my business and moved from primarily working with a 35mm SLR system back to primarily working with a medium format system again when I purchased a Mamiya 645 DF+ and a Leaf Credo 40 back at the end of 2014. I’d mainly been working with the Canon 5D series for the last couple of years and occasionally renting Mamiya/Phase systems when needed, but the more I shot with the medium format systems the more I fell back in love with the look of the images I was getting from them – I spent a good chunk of my film days shooting on the analog versions of the Mamiya 645 and the Mamiya RZ, so going back to that format actually felt really natural for me. I’d been looking into upgrading as far back as 2012, but from a business and financial perspective it wasn’t the right time to make that sort of investment, so I shelved the idea and decided to revisit it in the future. Thankfully, by the end of 2014 I had experienced quite a bit of growth in my business, been saving smartly towards upgrading, and was in a position where making the leap made a lot more sense.

I couldn’t be happier!

If you think you will ever be in the market to upgrade to a medium format system I highly recommend talking to the folks at Capture Integration in Atlanta before you do so. I agonized for well over a year before pulling the trigger on this new system, and lot of it was spent doing research, getting opinions, and trying to get my hands on various systems to test drive, but what locked it for me was when Chris Snipes from the CI sales team actually came to Buffalo for an event and made some time for me privately to answer a ton of questions and let me test drive a lot of different gear hands-on that really sold me. They’ve been great after the fact too, checking in with me and offering tons of support and optimization tips through their tech support and rentals manager Anthony Festa (a fellow Western New Yorker recently transplanted to the South). These are the people to talk to if you are serious about upgrading.

One of the first assignments I used the new setup on was this portrait of the late pro baseball umpire and actor Peter Calieri. He was probably best known as one of the field officials in Barry Levinson’s The Natural – maybe the best baseball movie ever. He was also a beloved part of the Buffalo, NY theatre community. Sadly, Peter passed away unexpectedly not long after he sat for this portrait.

Portrait of former pro baseball umpire and actor peter calieri
When I was in Seattle a few years ago at a workshop with John Keatly he joked that when he upgraded to a Hasselblad system he was disappointed that the images he took with the camera weren’t already retouched, and I totally get that now. These cameras are actually a little unforgiving, the files are so astonishingly sharp and crisp that you see EVERYTHING, but when you move past that and realize that the raw materials they give you to work with have so much potential and such a different feel from the 35mm format it changes the way you shoot and approach projects. I find myself working much more slowly and deliberately now. In general I’m capturing far fewer frames per project, and I’m certainly mindful of the quirks you encounter when moving to a new system. At first I was concerned about the weight and size factor, and it certainly is heavier than my MKIII, but at 6’2 it really hasn’t been too much of an issue for me. I’ve also found that I have to be extra mindful about nailing focus with this camera, as it’s much less forgiving that a 35mm in that regard – but when you see that perfect capture come in on-screen you are totally blown away by it.

SHELTER PORTRAITS: DARLA

Darla20141128-1025-Edit

Meet Darla, a three-year-old Mastiff in Buffalo, NY that is looking for an awesome family to adopt her this holiday season. Currently she is in a foster program run by the HEART Animal Rescue and Adoption Team. Darla looks so much like one of my own dogs (Akasha – who was a rescue as well, and I’m pretty sure that Darla is a Boerboel just like her) that I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to help her out once I heard her story.

Darla has been adopted and returned twice through no fault of her own (changing circumstances did not allow the families to keep her in the long-term). Right now Darla is staying with a really great foster family, but because of her issues with cats and other animals she has to stay in the heated garage most of the time. The volunteers at HEART and her foster family have been working their butts off to find a great new owner and a warm fireplace for this tiny (for a mastiff) lady to curl up by for the holidays. Thankfully, once the new portraits I created of her hit Facebook and Twitter, her story was shared hundreds of times in just a few days. She still hasn’t been placed with a new home yet, but I’m hoping that if you are in the Buffalo, NY area and are looking for an amazing pet, or know a deserving family who is you will help spread the word about Darla’s situation and make her holidays marvelous.

She’s very sweet and affectionate, but she doesn’t always get along with cats (who can blame her – I don’t get along with them either) or other dogs very well. However, she is amazing with less furry, more human children, and would make an amazing addition to a family looking for that perfect first pet. People are really dedicated to helping Darla and because of that a friend of the foster family has agreed to pay the $150.00 adoption fee, in addition to that kick-ass donation I’m offering up to $100.00 for the new family to sign up for training classes in the Buffalo area with Darla after she is adopted as a great way to bond with her and get to know each other better. She’s up to date on shots, is heart worm negative, spayed, housebroken, crate trained, already microchipped, and devastatingly cute.

You can find more info on her at her Petfinder page.

JENN KAY

Aerial silk artist and acrobat Jenn Kowalik.

I hope everyone has bounced back with style and grace from their yearly overdose of tryptophan induced food comas, good wine, football (unless hockey is on, hockey always wins) and awkward family moments. Most of you only have to do thanksgiving once a year, but for those of you like me and Erin who get the pleasure of one in October (The cooler Canadian version) and regular American Thanksgiving in November (Which falls just a few days after my birthday – Hello thirty-three!) the road to recovery can be a little trickier, especially with more holiday feasting right around the corner. Welcome back everyone.  Continue reading “JENN KAY”

THE CHEESE SHOP: NICKEL CITY CHEESE AND MERCANTILE

Jill Gedra Forster of Nickel City Cheese and Mercantile

There’s a strong probability that if you ask me what I want to eat at any given moment, one of the myriad examples of a specific intersection of milk, bacteria, and time is going make an appearance on the list – In other words, to take a cue from Monty Python, I love me some cheesy comestibles.

Cheese is one of those foods that is both simple comfort and elegant luxury – the variety of milks, styles, additions, and ages create a universe of flavors that accompany us through so many moments in life from quiet and simple dinners to ravenous post-bar snacking to romantic interludes and fancy parties  (this is all starting to sound a bit Suessian – I would eat cheese in a boat, I would eat cheese from a goat..). But if you want the really good stuff you have to go a little further than your local mega-grocery – that’s where Jill comes in. Continue reading “THE CHEESE SHOP: NICKEL CITY CHEESE AND MERCANTILE”

SHELTER PORTRAITS: LINDA BLAIR

CBAS Adopted Dog Linda BlairFor movie fans, the name Linda Blair likely evokes memories of the actress who played Regan MacNeil in the Exorcist, crawling backwards down a flight of stairs or retching pea soup all over a couple of priests, but nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to this sweetheart. This very petite pit was named Linda Blair by the volunteers at the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter in honor of the horror legend’s work with dogs of all kinds through her Linda Blair WorldHeart Foundation and especially her efforts to rescue and change the stigma surrounding certain breeds. Continue reading “SHELTER PORTRAITS: LINDA BLAIR”

CODY CHASE

Comedian Cody Chase

I’m off on vacation this week! I’ll be spending a few well deserved days in Las Vegas with my girlfriend, my brother, and some friends. Hopefully I’ll be recovered from the debauchery in time to share a few photos from my misadventures with you in the next update.

Before I leave I want to share this duo of new portraits of comedian Cody Chase from last month. I had a very cool hand painted background in from Oliphant Studios in NYC for a few days and had a chance to use it on a series of small personal projects with some of the areas most interesting performers including Cody. Continue reading “CODY CHASE”

THE BREWERS: COMMUNITY BEER WORKS

Rudy And Ethan - Partners in Community Beer Works nano -brewery

There’s a giant Mogwai tour poster hanging on the office wall at Community Beer Works when I sit down to interview Ethan Cox and Rudy Watkins that serves as a reminder that these guys have great taste in music as well as beer – which is fortuitous because it was primarily the relationship between beer and music that first brought this young Western New York Brewery to my attention. The first of their brews that I tried was More Information, a special one-off batch that Rudy had made for a Swans show at Buffalo’s Tralf Music Hall (their first concert specific brew was Preacher Man, a Godspeed You! Black Emperor inspired American Black Ale). I love beer and loud music, and when a bartender is telling you about a new local brew made specifically for one night and one particular show, it’s hard to say no. Continue reading “THE BREWERS: COMMUNITY BEER WORKS”

THE PROJECTIONIST: KEITH HARRINGTON

Video artist Keith Harrington

Keith Harrington makes his art big – really big.

Red Rocks big, Silo City big.

Big.

It’s also fleetingly temporary. As a video & installation artist-DJ-VJ-audiovisual mixologist masher-upper guerrilla projectionist all-around culturally informed kind of guy  (how many hyphens do you need before you can simply be listed as awesomely multi-talented? Or as Keith described it during our interview – Artistic Batman), Keith’s focused interests have resulted in a prolific and varied but ephemeral body of work Continue reading “THE PROJECTIONIST: KEITH HARRINGTON”

THE PIE MAKER: DAMIAN PARKER

Damien Parker, owner and lead creative of Pie Mad and the English Pork Pie Company.

The first thing I learned from Damian Parker is that pies are sexy.

He’s not the only one who thinks so either: Disney, Google, and the US Military are just some of his customers.  The Telegraph named The English Pork Pie Company the Best British Shop in the World three years in a row. Even Gordon Ramsay is a fan of Damian’s products.

Not too bad for an English expat making meat pies in South Buffalo. Continue reading “THE PIE MAKER: DAMIAN PARKER”

THE WOODWORKER: WRAFTERBUILT

Wodworker Sean Wrafter of Wrafterbuilt

A man walks into a coffee shop and sits down (at a table and chair he didn’t build – because this man is me, and I don’t know the first goddamn thing about building furniture). Soon, another man joins him (this one has an awesome beard, and though he didn’t build this particular chair and table set he most assuredly could have – though his version would have undoubtedly been far cooler and better made) and begins to speak reverently about tools in a way reminiscent of how old movie samurai speak about swords. The conversation is rife with invocations that extol the virtues of certain indigenous woods, litanies dedicated to the importance of the trades, and excited odes to furniture built from reclaimed materials. It is without a doubt one of the most stimulating and entertaining conversations I have had in weeks –  few things are as engaging as talking with someone about what they are really excited about. Continue reading “THE WOODWORKER: WRAFTERBUILT”

THE HISTORIAN: GUY GANE

To many, historic reenactors are obsessives, partaking in a hobby that many equate with other escapist pastimes like role-playing games, comic books, and cosplay – albeit with an academic and historically important twist. Those passionate about it lose themselves in the extensive minutia of the history and the characters involved, obsessed with the detail and authenticity of the smallest items and often spending, searching, or crafting tirelessly in search of the perfect uniform or campsite accessory.  Few make it look as good as Guy William Gane III.

Guy is one of the few reenactors who has been able to parlay his passion for history into a career on both sides of the camera. An an actor, casting director, and historical advisor for many film and documentary productions focusing on the American Civil War, Guy is part historian, part maker, and very serious about losing himself in the roles he plays both on and off the battlefield – often forging a strong personal connection with the history he embroils himself in. During a chat a few weeks after this assignment Guy told me a story of one of the most personal moments he has ever experienced during a reenactment.

“To be honest, I feel that reenacting has brought out something within me that I always knew was there. The ability to make something real. I judge everything on how real it seems to me. Authenticity is very important in reenacting. Being able to show authenticity in a performance is what sells it. It’s the same with acting. If you can’t properly show emotion or action, then it looks cheezy… or Farby, as we call it, in the reenacting world. If I told people that I believe in reincarnation, they would either laugh or look at me curiously. I don’t know why I have such a connection to that time period, especially. It’s been something I’ve just accepted. I didn’t attend college classes, since I’d end up teaching the teacher. In June of 2012, I experienced the most realistic-feeling event, when I attended the “Lee Takes Command” event. The battle was Gaines’ Mill and me and 31 other reenactors gather together to portray the Louisiana Tigers, who were decimated at the battle. We all made our uniforms and what I went through out there can’t be explained to anyone who wasn’t there. I was bawling my eyes out at several points in the battle and it’s aftermath. It was REAL. So I believe that Spirits are with us, always. They were there that day.”

With little time between projects, Guy is the first to admit that his zeal for reenactment and his job is a driving force in his life. “I live on no sleep and a lot of coffee, and I am always moving.  This is the greatest experience of my life.”  The last few months have found him working on the upcoming feature Field of Lost Shoes about the VMI Cadets at the Battle of New Market, and then quickly packing up to begin work casting for an upcoming project with Netflix. Always an impeccable dresser, Guy’s style is usually mix of vintage charm and modern sensibility, but when he stepped on set for this shoot to promote one of his upcoming projects it was a bit haunting to see how wholly he can physically inhabit these personas – whether playing a nameless Union soldier in a battlefield reenactment  or a role as infamous as John Wilkes Booth in a historical television drama.

LEO CHAN

Business editorial portrait on finance exec Leo Chan

It’s not every day that you find that the subject you are creating a business portrait of is also a model, but that was certainly the case when photographing Morgan Stanley compliance and anti-money laundering specialist Leo Chan.

In creating these portraits Leo and I  wanted to create something simple, classic, and a little iconic that took advantage of all the style and confidence Leo brought to the equation. The addition of a well-tailored suit, a quirky splash of color, and the fact that Leo is also an experienced model made this portrait a lot of fun to work on.

I am always excited to shoot a project like this. As much as I have enjoyed shooting fashion and beauty stories over the years I have found myself drifting away from that lately and gravitating towards what really excites me these days, which is photographing real people with interesting lives and their own sense of style and identity – Cool people who do and make cool things. A lot of my recent personal work is around the idea of making images that tell these kinds of stories while still being very stylish and clean – very me.  One of the reasons that this project with Leo is so appealing to me is that it is something of a bridge between these two very different types of projects I work on and very much a hybrid between where I am coming from and where I want to go with my work.

MARIACHI!

Mariachi guitarist I photographed in Seattle WA

A short story to share with you this week.

A few months ago I was in Seattle attending a workshop when, much to my surprise, an amazing mariachi band just walked into the studio and started to jam (John Keatley may have had something to do with that…)

These guys looked incredible and could they ever play. I had a chance to make this quick portrait of one of them during a break in their set.

JAMES HICKEY

Artist and stylist James Hickey

James Hickey was the second subject that I was asked to photograph by Spree Magazine for their special feature on Buffalo NY’s most beautiful and fascinating people. James is a master hairstylist by day, painter by night, and a full-time father who works in two creative fields. The image above is my favorite from that day’s series of portraits.

This was one of those rare projects where I had the pleasure of knowing my subject before being given an assignment to photograph them. James and I have known each other for a few years through mutual friends in the Western New York creative community. Most of the time on assignments like these I am working with people who I have met just moments before, so it is quite a different experience when I am photographing someone I know –  it is a little easier to slip into that really great rapport with a subject that leads to creating some really interesting images.

Tear sheet of James Hickey from Spree Magazine