How Taking Photos in Uruguay Changed How I Look at Peruvian Food
I’ve taken thousands of photos of Peru, but I never felt like the images fully captured the place I know and love.
In my opinion, my photos of other places better capture the sense of place than my photos of Peru. For example, when I think of Mexico, I can conjure up memories of my photos such as the overhead shots of tortillas being made at a market, luchadors wrestling for a local audience including jubilant five-year-olds, and an Easter week procession meandering against the backdrop of colorful streets of a small town. In Peru, I have taken photos of hundreds of dishes, but how they are connected?
It turns out I just needed to step away and photograph another place to rebuild my framework for telling stories through photography. That place was Garzón, Uruguay.
William Hereford taught the workshop which was beautifully structured to span three days. Each day focused on a different theme: portraits, landscapes, and then food. The mornings featured photo shoots followed by editing sessions in the afternoon. Many meals and memories were shared along the way. The workshop included food from the best restaurants in the area including Francis Mallmann’s Restaurante Garzon, Marismo, and catering by Mesa.
I shot from the moment I woke up until late into the night. One day began with photos of horses right outside the old train wagon that was my accommodation for the workshop. The day ended with a fleeting shot taken as we concluded another wonderful meal as friends. Even though I haven’t used my camera much for the last couple of years, I was excited that my photos were landing. It was nice to know that knowledge from past photo workshops was still ingrained in me.
Each photo workshop is completely different. Here are some of the things I learned during this workshop:
It’s absolutely amazing how photographers shoot the same subject in completely different ways. Anyone who has compared photos with a friend who was on the same trip knows how surprisingly different the photos can be. With the immersive photo shoots in the workshop and editing sessions where we shared our daily captures, I could see how people take in scenes differently. I enjoyed how this workshop included ample time to share photos and discuss them. This led to everyone getting to know each other.
Conversations help develop your photographic vision. In the workshop, I was able to see how people perceive my photos. Several participants commented on how I was able to disappear from a scene, making the viewers feel that they were there. I never thought about it exactly that way, but I enjoy taking environmental portraits that lead with a strong subject but also pack in a lot of details of the surroundings. Taking close-up shots of details tends to be something I often miss and worked on during the workshop.
I should spend more time editing. I shoot a lot. Before I switched to mirrorless, I shot a lot to make sure the focus was right. Now, I shoot a lot, especially to catch the right expression on someone’s face and also to have photos ready for when I decide years later to write about a specific topic like a certain type of Peruvian pepper. With this workshop, I realized the power of editing to add a “punch” to photos. With the right editing, you can say more with fewer photos.
Photography doesn’t have to be solitary. A camera can isolate you from your surroundings or draw you in. I associate photography with the many trips where I traveled solo. With this workshop, I got to experience photography as a collaborative effort. One of my favorite moments was when we were shooting beautiful plates of food laid out on a table. We had the camera tethered so we could all see photos as they were taken and then it was time to “mess up” the food and photograph the food with our hands cutting and eating.
This workshop was far more than a class. William invited us into his home and into his life. He’s an incredibly kind soul. You can see this not only in how he encourages his students but also in his daily interactions with the core people in his life and all of the people in town.
The six participants (including myself) had experience living in Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, and in my case, Peru. I am fortunate to have spent so many meals with such a wonderful group of people. We talked about everything from the right music for a particular moment to how new food scenes form.
The central assignment for the workshop was to select 12 photos that capture Garzón. Here are 9 of those images:
I started wondering if I could do that with Peru. The goal is not to provide lots of photos about one thing but instead to interweave photos that are broad with ones that zoom into poignant details. Since it could be overwhelming, I would start with a single region or city like Lima. Thinking about Lima, if I were to guess, I could pull 4 photos from my current collection. That means that I have my work cut out for me, with 8 more photos to go.
Finally, this workshop made me think about telling stories via writing versus photography.
As you’ve probably noticed, I tend to hedge and tell a story with half photos and half pictures. I’d like to change it up occasionally with some stories that feature just one header photo and longer text, and other ones featuring a small collection of photos and just a tiny bit of text to set the context1.
On the first day, I asked William about the role of the photographer and the writer in food stories. Not because I have an interest in professionalizing, but rather to understand how stories that you read in magazines are put together. I wondered, “Why isn’t the photographer and the writer the same person”?
One answer is that each is a long process. Shooting the way we did required setting up the shoot, the shoot itself, culling photos, and editing. The writing process involves a lot of interviews, sifting through pages of notes, and a lot of re-writing. Plus, if you’re doing it for a living you have to add all of the business aspects of establishing your niche, pricing offerings, keeping the client happy, and more.
Throughout the course, with William’s help, I was able to come to a satisfying answer to the question for myself. People see stories differently. Not everyone wants to spend time through the viewfinder. Others don’t like combing through hours of interview notes.2 I happen to like both, but as a result, I sometimes am overextended and as a result, a lot of my work is riddled with typos and my photos often lack flair. In the end, what’s important is to strive to continuously improve and to go wherever your interests take you.
Follow William at @williamhereford to hear about future workshops.
A lot of my everyday posts will continue to use photos taken with my phone since the best camera is often the one you have with you.
I even heard of people in food media who don’t even enjoy the food or traveling but instead get a thrill from the technical aspects.