Breadsticks. How else would you make art for a bakery?

Rosie. Photographed with a Rolleiflex 8008i. 150mm Zeiss Sonnar.

I sometimes go to a Bakery called Sweetish Hill Bakery.  It was founded by a brilliant woman who studied pastry and bread making in Vienna while her equally brilliant husband studied literature there on a fellowship.  They were/are both bohemian literary intellectuals who've supported generations of writers, painters and even photographers here in Austin.

I met Patricia, the baker,  many years ago when I had been assigned by a small city magazine I freelanced for to photograph and write about a hÃ¥ute cuisine restaurant she had recently opened called, La Provence.  At the time I was little more than a recently graduated university student with a 4x5 view camera, a 90mm wide angle and a 210mm normal lens and, maybe, ten sheet film holders.  I also had a Polaroid back which helped immensely in those times when I lost my nerve or lost my place during a photo shoot.  I had a small lighting kit that was made up of a very rudimentary Novatron flash generator in industrial gray and two flash heads.  The only modifiers I owned were two 40 inch, white, translucent umbrellas.  But I had always been keenly interested in food and, when I met the owner of the restuarant in her chef's whites and her generous apron we hit it off because of our mutual love of everything edible.

She had the clear advantage having grown up in a food/restaurant family in Philadelphia and honing her instincts in the fine restaurants in the capitols of Europe.  

I wrote the best review I could and took photographs that can only be counted as "beginner's luck."  The magazine ran my dining room shots, complete with perfect roaring fireplace, as large as they could and both my article and Patricia's restaurant were a roaring success.  I continued to work with Patricia on every project she touched.  I shot cakes and pies and pastries.  I shot foie gras and koulibiaka.  Wellingtons and Toll House cookies (the best on the planet).  My child has only had Sweetish Hill Bakery Pennsylvania Dutch Chocolate cakes on his birthdays (at five he wondered if other children's mothers just didn't know about Sweetish Hill...).   And I've spent at least a morning a week, and sometimes many days a week, sitting on the benches outside the bakery enjoying great coffee and wonderful, hot from the oven, pain au chocolats.

For most of the past 20 years I had a show of images hanging in the bakery.  They were always of people with their favorite pastry or coffee.  Some were nudes with pastries.  When I saw someone I wanted to photograph for the walls I would approach them, reference the work all around them and.....ask.

That's how I met Rosie, above.  I'd been sitting at an outside table on a hot, crisp morning and she walked into the bakery.  I glanced up just as she pulled the door open and decided that she had to be included.  I had my business card in her hand before she even hit the cash register.

I kept my studio set up and ready for a basic portrait most of the time.  I've been lazy about it lately but I'm getting back into the habit of having one big light and a gray wall pretty much ready all the time.  

Turns out that Rosie was a popular photographers model in Austin when I shot this image.  And I could tell from her easy demeanor in front of the camera.  She dropped by with two thin loaves of bread in hand and we shot a quick five or six rolls of medium format transparency film.  I was using a motor driven Rollei SLR with my favorite medium long lens.  The light came from a big, 4x6 foot softbox.  We made a big print for the wall and had it framed.  It was on the wall for years.

Patricia sold the bakery to her partner a few years ago and started a company that makes organic, super high quality school lunches for a little constellation of the best private schools in town.  She's on a mission to make healthy lunches for kids.  She started at the top.

Patricia gave me so many great opportunities.  She's one of the people I can point to who made a lasting difference in my career as a photographer.  And many of the great chefs I've photographed around Austin worked in her kitchen when they started.  I can count 40 or so in the last ten years who've "graduated" from her bakery or one of her restaurants and gone on to great things.

The best gift she gave me was a better understanding of food in all of its glory.

One light.  One bakery customer.  Two loaves of bread and camera.  What a nice recipe.

Another image from the Bakery Series.

edit: A nice essay on patience and photography over at the Luminous-Landscape.  Read it here:

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1 comment:

wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

How nice (and I knew that second photo already). And what a great story. Thanks for sharing it!