Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Savoring the Spoils of War

Yes, I'm judging you and your drum circles.
As a self-proclaimed artist, it seems that I'm destined to suffer. To be a master of your craft and to feel that thrill time and time again when you make a film or take a photo requires unyielding dedication. Many accept and act on that fact by adopting the "Bohemian" lifestyle. Art comes first, then everything else. You become one with your art, joining a community of lives devoted to expressing the human condition.

I didn't do that, though...mostly because Bohemians have a bad habit of being incredibly pretentious, out of touch with the real world (a.k.a. the people funding your projects and enjoying your art), and not showering. 

Nah, I have a day job that keeps me busy. I am not known for my photography, film, or writing. I put in the time, but I still view everything I do as a 'work in progress'. They're not up to par yet to make a living, and I'm not quite ready to grow out some dreads and getting in touch with my inner-self.

Occasionally, I do fall into some projects where I'm thrust into that role where people expect you to act as a 'photographer,' and not be as self conscious about what I'm doing. It helps when you have a good friend taking pictures with you. And, sometimes, you get to go full out and rent gear you wouldn't otherwise use, taking pictures that you know are going to be used commercially. No pressure, right?

I look so professional these days.
So, naturally, I was stoked when my good friend Warren let me in on a shoot this past weekend taking pictures for a local restaurant's new menu. As you can tell by the double chin, I love food. And, lately, I've been a bit rusty in my photography skills. It's depressing as hell watching a 5dMkII collect dust.

Most of the day consisted of Warren and I circulating dish after dish from the kitchen downstairs into a makeshift studio consisting of 2 softboxes and a black cloth laying over a table.

At first, I struggled. Photography is like any other skill: you use it or lose it. Lately my time behind the lens has been extremely limited. I've been feeling a bit uninspired by the sometimes sterile metropolis of Seoul. Work has been sapping most of my energy, and a standard day after 6pm consists of spending time with my girlfriend or playing Halo.

Fortunately, photography is much like any other skill in that, like riding a bike, it's easy to pick back up again after some trial and error. I also had the pleasure of working with Warren, who is one of the more engaging and steadfast photographers I've met while abroad. When I think I've got the shot, he's trying to squeeze in a couple more...even if to just get a couple more minutes of practice. Working as a duo pushes me technically as a photographer and gives me that extra push I often need to perform at my best. I also found that, creatively, having another person that works well with you creates an ecosystem that allows ideas you normally wouldn't come up with on your own to bounce between one another.

Getting fancy with the dishes
The shoot went all afternoon long and well into the evening as the entire menu, literally, was cooked up for us. Waiters would come upstairs to see what we were doing, snack on the finished dishes, and tell me how much I looked like Harry Potter. On occasion, we would have the owner's daughter come up and talk with us. She is half Korean, half Spanish, and grew up in Spain. Her mother crafted all of the dishes here, and her brother runs the restaurant. It's something out of a mob movie, down to the delicious food and the 'manager' that looks more like a body guard. I don't question...I'm just here to take some pictures.

By the end of the day, we had shot somewhere around 30 dishes of food that, if you bought individually, would cost around $2000. It was so good that we didn't get paid for the shoot. Rather, we had the waiters pack up all the non-seafood dishes in tin foil so we can take them home. The next couple days Warren and I snacked on steak, kabobs, lamb chops, roasted veggies, burgers, and dishes I would never order because they go for $50 a pop. And, living in Korea, finding good meat like that and having it cooked right is a rarity. We savored the spoils of war as if we had never tasted meat before. It was totally worth it.

I'm still astounded that I fall into shoots like this, especially when I'm only just a passable photographer working in an industry that's hyper-competitive, pretentious, and cut-throat. I'm a lucky guy in that, along the way, I've met fellow people in my field like Warren whom I can learn from and tag along with for a ride. They're nice people with small egos and big aspirations and exceptionally good at what they do. I would never find these people back home simply because it requires a bit of unsettling to really strip away the clicks and social barriers that stand in the way of working cooperatively rather than competitively.

And besides, eating an entire menu's worth of food is only possible by working together.