Category Archives: International Assignments

Grits and Sardines…Food History

iPhone photograph of grits and sardines a traditional Bahamian breakfast dish.

I was on assignment last week in the Bahamas doing a food shoot.

I am always surprised by the food history and culture when I visit a new place and one of my favorite things is when I find ingredients that are normal and everyday in my own world put together differently in another country. It’s always an exciting moment and makes me realize that there are so many foods eaten by cultures all over the world with different stories and histories behind them.

I was in a fish market early one morning in Nassau photographing locals selling fish fresh from their boats. I noticed a small food stall with a really long line of men, all local fishermen buying breakfast before they started their workday.

This tiny 4×6 kitchen was pumping out serious breakfast food. They were making Cajun Creole Bahamian food. Which means that it was hearty, fish-driven and spicy.

Almost all the men were having this grits dish or rice with fish and souse, (souse is a sauce made with water, potatoes, onions and served with some kind of meat or fish.)

It was this grits dish that stopped me in my tracks. The grits were simply prepared, but the sardines, sliced onion, green pepper and tomato with lime on top was a surprise. The flavor was unexpected: I’ve had grits but it’s usually with butter and cheese. Add sardines squirted with lime and it takes on a whole new dimension.

This is what gets me inspired about food and the culture around it: it always tells a story. You can look at this one-dish meal and sense it is not only rich with flavor, but with history as well. How did grits travel to this country? Why it is still eaten today? What I love about being part of the editorial process of a magazine story is how much I get to learn while I work. I look at that photograph and can taste that moment, imagine those first grits traveling across oceans, and how beautiful it is that different cultures adopt food traditions in such different ways.

 

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Filed under assignments, International Assignments, Seafood, street food

The Long Flight Home

I’ve had a semi-restful night of sleep, and I’m slowly recovering from the last eleven days of shooting in the interior of Mexico. There’s a lot that goes through my mind on the flight home from an assignment. Did I get what I needed? Did I make nice photographs? Did I see everything I could and say something with my pictures? And, finally, did I do the best I could?

It’s funny – as long as I’ve been doing this, those same questions are still always there at the end of every project. Always. Usually by the time I board the plane for my flight home, all I can do is collapse into my seat. For me, the period of intense rest that follows always evolves into a feeling of personal reflection and, with most assignments, gratitude.

This particular project certainly inspired a great deal of reflection and gratitude.  The morning after I got home, I sat down and wrote the client that contracted me for this book project a thank you note.
In the world out there that I work in, there are tons of great photographers. Every day, I find more of them. What makes someone choose one over the other varies, but I’ve learned over time that things happen the way they are supposed to.
I can’t control that decision-making process, but I can control me:  my effort in the field, my attitude about my work, the kind of person I am. None of these are easy, and trust me – when you’re tired and it’s day eight of a shoot, those all become really difficult.
Anyway, you can bet this next weekend will find me sleeping late, taking naps, and most of all, feeling exceptionally fortunate to be here, doing what I do.

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Filed under assignments, Encouragement, International Assignments, Mexico, photography

Interior of Mexico at Light Speed, III

meat mercado in Oaxaca, Mexico (iphone image)

As I write this post, I’m sitting in an airport about to board a flight to our final location on this photography shoot through the interior of Mexico. I’m en route to Merida, in the heart of the Yucatan.

This trek across five states has been so much more than a photography project for a client’s upcoming book. It’s been more than making photographs – so much more then that. I feel in many ways like I’m seeing Mexico for the first time. Maybe that’s how I feel every time I come to this country. It’s always different; there’s so much to see, taste, photograph, experience.

On so many occasions during this trip, my soul just welled up with pride as I photographed people working in markets, selling comida on the sidewalks, playing endless music in the Zocalos, selling their handmade goods one by one. These are such hard working people, hustling everyday to make a living and always with such sincerity and good nature.

fish market in Veracruz, Mexico (iphone image)

This country has always been a touchstone for me. Traveling the country with two Mexican chefs, assistants and a fixer is perhaps even more special. All of them have their very own personal connections to the people, the places, the food and the land. It’s a heartfelt place from which to work; One that leaves this photographer with so much to consider and contemplate as I quietly try to make photographs that capture the essence of all that I’m seeing and feeling.

It’s an incredible place to work from, I just had to take a minute to try and communicate this to you all, so you knew that this isn’t just hustle, hustle, hustle. It’s definitely that, but I think of it more romantically.  Loving every second, every smell, every scene, all the bustling markets and bright faces and working very hard to try and get all that feeling translated into my photographs. I feel so lucky to be in this place right now, seeing what I’m seeing and doing what I’m doing. I’m so very grateful. Thanks to you all for travelling with me.

me, always looking for a new perspective, on a ladder in remote fishing village in Veracruz.

The line of words above me read oil and spark plugs which somehow seem so appropriate for me.

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Filed under assignments, Food Photography, International Assignments, Mexico, photography

Interior of Mexico at Light Speed, Part II

haunted, mansion hotel room in Puebla

On the second leg of this trek through the interior of Mexico we stopped in Puebla, Mexico.  I had 16 hours total to get the essence photographically of what this place is about. This felt pretty overwhelming but was a good challenge and a ton of fun. Here are two images, travel details that made this location extra special.

First detail is this haunted, creepy mansion hotel room, where I stayed, which felt more unsettling then comfortable. (Thankfully there were no fantasmas/ghosts)

Second, this incredible drink called a clamato.  It’s basically Clamato Juice, with spices (think Bloody Mary) habanera peppers and an ice-cold Corona beer mixed in. Throw that into a 16 hour day and you feel like you can do just about anything. Stay with me on this assignment, next stop, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Clamato Cubano with picante and Corona Beer and spicy shrimp,

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Filed under assignments, International Assignments, Mexico, photography

The Interior of Mexico at Light Speed

view from hotel in Centro Historico in Mexico City, D.F.

I’m currently in the interior of Mexico working on a ten-day photography shoot for a client. We are traveling to five states. Our first stop is Mexico City, one of my favorite places in the world. We are working at a pretty fast pace and trying to cover a ton of ground in a short amount of time. Cafe de olla, mezcal, a Mexican drink called Una Bandera, small naps in the car and cold showers are keeping me alert and ready.  I’ll check in with more details as this assignment continues; until then, here’s what I’m up to:

Monday June 5:

3 pm – Plane lands, arrive in Mexico City

4 pm – Meet driver, head to hotel

5 pm – Meet fixer and assistant and hit the ground running

5 – 11 pm – Start photographing book project with client

Tuesday June 6:

7:30 – 3:30 pm – Meet driver, fixer, assistant and client.  Head out to start photographing

3:30 – 5 pm – Lunch with crew

5 – 7 pm – Rest for a few hours in preparation for evening photography

7 pm – midnight – Photograph street scenes, light, people, places

Wednesday June 7:

Get up and do it all over again

Una Bandera, 3 shots consisting of sangrita or in this case neon colored tomato juice, tequila and lime juice…yes, this will get  your energy up and going

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Filed under assignments, food culture, International Assignments, Mexico, photography

On Assignment with Penny in Mexico City: Photo Workshop

 

 

One of my favorite places in the world to photograph is Mexico City.

My last experience there was on a magazine assignment, documenting the largest market in the world. The place was practically vibrating with energy, and there was so much to see.

Dozens of food stalls fill this market with people cooking over open flames, comals, wood burning stoves, everything. On one side, ladies make squash flower huaraches; on the other, groups gathered family-style, slurping up spicy, rich bowls of menudo and eating handmade corn tortillas. As you keep walking, you see nopales stacked six feet high, dwarfing the groups of ladies who are cleaning them. Gently, you squeeze past a groups of shoppers, all intent on finding the best bunch of portulaca.  In the distance, you see crowds of people waiting to order from the corner stalls where the best tacos in the market can be found.

This is Mexico City!  Of all the markets I’ve photographed in the world, this city has the best. When I think about spending time just making photographs and shooting for myself, this is the city that calls my name.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing for a weekend July 8-10.

I’m looking for about ten photographers to come with me to Mexico City.  We’ll go to this market and a handful of others, making photographs and talking approach.

Interested in joining me?  Check out this link for details:  http://mexicanmarketfotos.eventbrite.com/

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Filed under About Penny, International Assignments, markets, Mexico

I Left My Heart in Northern Italy Last Christmas

Oulx, Italy

anchovies in green sauce

I found myself on assignment last Christmas in an Alpine village in northern Italy, 80 miles from Torino up in the mountains and about eight miles from the French border, in Oulx, Italy. It was breathtaking there. I spent a handful of days with the warmest family – they made me feel so special and loved that it felt like home. And that’s a great feeling to have extended to you, especially since I was so far from my own family and loved ones. That assignment was one of the highlights of my year; not only for the incredible meal, but also for the people I met and the friendships that grew out of that assignment. Continue reading

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Filed under International Assignments, Italian, Italy, travel

Hunting for the Elusive White Truffle in Italy

Who knew last December I would be traipsing through the woods of the Northern Piedmont Region of Italy with a 5th generation trifolau, the Italian name for a white truffle hunter, and his truffle hunting dog Gigi. I was there on an assignment for Saveur Magazine photographing a story on a traditional Northern Italian family Christmas. With Christmas day off, I decided to spend it in the Piedmont Region, known for its Barolo, Nebiolo and Barbaresco wines. Another special gift of nature this region offers is the elusive, highly sought after and lucrative white truffle.

Continue reading

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Filed under assignments, food culture, International Assignments, Italy, travel

Greece…From My Camera to Your Belly

Sometimes, there really just isn’t much more to say. Over the summer, I had an assignment in Greece. I got an incredible taste of just how beautiful and delicious that country is. I found myself completely enamored with the small towns where I worked and the sincerely giving nature of the people I encountered there. Here are some of my personal favorites of the images from the shoot. Saveur’s Greece issue is on news stands now; pick it up and you can see more images that don’t appear here.



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Filed under assignments, Crete, food culture, Greece, Greek, International Assignments, markets

On Assignment with the Mothership of Italian Cooking Lidia Bastianich

Lidia with her two children and family

fresh mozzarella braid

Croatian-born Lidia Bastianich fled to Italy at the age of 11 with her family, as a refugee.  Two years later in 1958, the family would immigrate to the US. The self-taught cook has built an empire of Italian cooking in America, starting with a family-owned restaurant in Queens, in 1971. In 1981, Lidia would create her flagship restaurant, Felidia, in New York City. She has had a regular series on PBS since 1998, and – to date – has six celebrated restaurants nationwide and several cookbooks. I have been a fan of hers since I discovered her cooking. Watching her cook was so comforting and warm; she made the food seem unpretentious and totally approachable. At the end of most episodes, I found myself inspired to spend the rest of the afternoon shopping for ingredients and cooking. And, as we all know, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

When my editor at Saveur Magazine contacted me about an assignment with Lidia in Italy, I felt like I had won the lottery. Spend a week with Lidia and her family on their vacation in Umbria? Ummmm, twist my arm…let me think about it…OKAY!!! A few weeks later, I was there with the entire Bastianich family in Umbria, making photographs and quietly observing. I don’t have to tell you that we ate very well – and meeting Lidia and her family was one of my all-time favorite assignments. Talking to Lidia about her life and her success was personally very inspiring.

In spite of a busy life and much success, at the center of Lidia’s world is her family. I’m always so moved by people who make their way in the world starting from very little: just a dream, a good work ethic, and hope. That’s Lidia!

Gubbio, Italy

Umbrian lentil soup with extra virgin olive 

Lidia with her grandchildren teaching them to roll dough for tortas

torta al testo

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Filed under Chefs, Encouragement, International Assignments, Italy, Lidia Bastianich, markets, travel