The final day of Penny De Los Santos’ three-day Food and Culture Photography workshop at creativeLIVE was one I will never forget. The field challenges, the raw emotions, the inspiration was simply palpable. I was lucky enough to witness some of it firsthand.
On Sunday morning, my wife and I headed down to the creativeLIVE studio. We joined six other foodies around a wooden table outside in the Seattle rain. Waiting for the shoot in start, we spent 45 minutes talking, laughing, getting to know each other, and trying to stay warm under the wobbly blue tent.
Penny came outside and introduced herself to everyone at the table. She gave us simple instructions – eat, have fun, and ignore her. So, for the next 30 minutes we did just that. We wolfed down beans, sausages, grilled garlic bread, and the largest asparagus I have ever seen – each spear almost as thick as my wrist!
Then came the oysters – big, steaming, Pacific oysters from local purveyors Taylor Shellfish Farms. The heat from the shells, having roasted for about an hour under wet burlap sacks over an open wood fire, was a relief to my frozen fingers.
Throughout our feasting, Penny darted all around with her camera. At times her movements reminded me of the dance-like Brazilian martial art Capoeira. Quick, graceful, and with purpose – always seeing the scene, looking for “the moment.” As an aspiring photographer, it was difficult not to just stop eating, step back, and watch her work.
When Penny was done, it was the students’ turn to shoot. I could see how nervous they were, knowing that thousands of other photographers were watching them online. I have so much respect and admiration for all six of them. They really put it out there for the whole world to see. And they rose to the difficult challenge of doing a field assignment in a wet, confined space under poor lighting conditions.
Before I knew it, the shoot had ended and it was time for us to go. We raced home so I could sign in and watch the rest of the workshop online along with the rest of the world. My fifteen minutes of internet “fame” were over but Penny wasn’t through with us yet.
During the final segment of the day, Penny addressed the students for the last time. To truly capture that moment in words is a feat that is beyond this photographer’s writing skills, but I’ll give it a try. Penny shared her story of getting started, of being told “no” several times, and of the self-doubt that she had felt. At one particularly vulnerable point she had asked her brother, “What if I’m not good enough?” To which he simply responded, “What if you are? What if you are good enough?” It was at that moment that she began to dream that maybe she really could do it.
Penny’s final assignment to the class was to ask themselves one question, “If you’re not doing what you love…why not? Why not? Why are you not doing what you love?” These words have been resonating with me ever since she spoke them. And even now, I don’t have a good answer. This blog, the photography class I’m taking, the creativeLIVE workshops I participate in, the plans I have with my wife to travel and make pictures – these are all steps to get me closer to “doing what I love.” But I still have a ways to go. I can only hope that as I follow this path I will do it with as much integrity, heart, and passion as Penny.
Thanks, Penny, for showing me what it takes to elevate photography from craft to art.