The soft, pure image of simple, rustic foods is something to which any one of us can relate. It perhaps conjures memories of childhood picnics, of spending hours in the kitchen with relatives working over a piping-hot stove, of a first date with a special someone where you dined over candlelight with exotic-sounding produce and fruit de mere.
Sara Remington’s photography tells just such stories, with poignantly simple, yet elegant images that speak volumes. The sense of immortal beauty in her photography is an exceptional feat when you consider the age of the artist. At only 27, Remington has been able to hone the genre to stir emotion in the most hardened viewer.
Remington’s ability to capture potentially endless stories in one simple frame is what makes her work so enticing. After all, it was her own attraction to the subject of natural foods and produce that initially put Remington on the unlikely path to becoming a food photographer.
Living in San Francisco, she was exposed to one of the largest farming areas in the United States. Rolling vineyards and ever-expanding fields filled with brightly colored produce stretch across the scenery of northern California in a way hardly seen in any other region. Says Remington, “I was inspired by the natural produce in California, all of the strawberries and fruits. There’s great food in California. I was surrounded by beautiful produce and a simple, elegant way of life.”
Even with this affinity for food, Remington never anticipated that her career would find her so enveloped in the world of food photography. After spending time shooting the local crop, she landed a job photographing the cover story for a local publication, Solano magazine. Through this project, Remington was able to showcase the skills she had already developed by experimenting on her own with the foods of Napa Valley.
“The story I shot was called ‘Top Chefs Who Keep It Fresh’—it profiled chefs in the Napa region and how they take advantage of the peak-season fresh produce from local gardens and farmer’s markets. It concentrated on taking out the middleman and going straight to the source of the earth to create the freshest dishes possible. I combined food images with environmental portraits, and one of the images of a chef in his garden made the cover—pretty exciting, since these were not only my first published images, but it was my first cover as well.”
The theme of the article played on issues that Remington was already inspired by—the slow-foods movement, organic and natural methods of creating and ultimately going back to the earth. These are themes that not only lend themselves to a beautiful lifestyle, but also bring forth distinctive and creative images.
Telling A Story
No matter how accomplished Remington is in her particular field, it would be wrong to pigeonhole her to one category. Her drive to create beautiful images comes from a deeper place than a backyard garden. She’s a storyteller. Her skill in combining simple images with bold colors and soft lighting pulled her toward portraiture. By pairing her portraits with her images of food, she was able to add another layer to her story.
“The pairing turned into a sort of storytelling, laid out like a book,” explains Remington. “I love the feeling I get when I walk into a really interesting room, or see an incredible and strange piece of food, or smell a familiar scent like a fresh-cut lawn or garlic. I imagine my brain as a giant photo album, and when I smell, hear or taste something, it’s connected to hundreds of other memories.
“You smell garlic, and you think of your Italian grandmother cooking, which brings you to remember the frumpy, loud muumuus she wore, which brings you to remember the closet in which she hung those frumpy muumuus, which brings you to remember the smell of mothballs in the closet when you played hide-and-seek with your sister, and so on and so on. Every smell, every color, every idea is connected to a memory, which sparks another.”
After creating such a significant portfolio of personal and professional food images, her career began to snowball. “I moved away from darker, more conceptual images and started shooting natural food editorial jobs,” says Remington. “I like to create stylized food images and eventually had enough to start developing that style more in depth.”
As a student at Syracuse University, Remington originally chose to focus on cinematography and film. She had been attracted to storytelling, stemming from watching horror movies as a child, mesmerized more by the images than the vapid dialogue. Eventually, the freedom and independence of photography took hold. She changed majors and focused on photography with a secondary interest in film.
After graduation and a move to Los Angeles, Remington’s drive helped her land every job possible in the photographic world: “I did everything in L.A.—third assisting, gallery setups, labs—everything I could do that was related to photography.”
Remington attributes this part of her career to her overall success as a photographer. “Be very, very humble and work everywhere,” she says. “Sweep floors at a photographer’s studio, file negatives and slides at a professional lab, second and third assist for free, and clean toilets!
“I tried to take on every photo- and film-related job in the beginning; I didn’t care what it was. You’ll learn something from every tiny thing you do. You’ll meet people who will help you, who you’ll love, who you’ll loathe, who will give you amazing advice. Take it all in, because you’ll gain use out of every bit of information.”
Remington was never one to hang out in art galleries, looking at other people’s work and wondering why she hadn’t had her big break yet. After two years of getting her hands dirty all over Los Angeles, she moved to San Francisco to work for Daniel Proctor as an office manager. It was from him that she met the person she describes as her biggest influence: Catherine Karnow.
Recalls Remington, “I did everything for her—filing, assisting, fed the cat. I learned everything that was business,” an important lesson for Remington, since it was something she felt was lacking during her formal education.
“[Syracuse] was a great school for helping me develop my concepts and perfecting my technique and vision,” she adds. “But I was disappointed in their lack of business training. Nobody thought this was a real career. It would be like, ‘That’s great, but what are you going to do for a real job?’”
Remington’s tenacity wouldn’t allow her to be persuaded by naysayers. She continued to work energetically toward her career. She shot constantly, building her portfolio with her personal work until she was able to incorporate more professional work as well.
Bridging The Gap
As dedicated as Remington has been to her photographic career, she admits that much of her success has been accelerated by her recent honor as one of PDN’s “30 Under 30,” which recognizes 30 young photographers under the age of 30.
“It has been an amazing and quick transition in a matter of a few months,” she says. “I’ve worked with some editors and art directors who want me to shoot in my style, giving me a huge amount of creative leeway. My goal is to bridge the gap between my personal and commercial work, and being part of PDN’s 30 has really allowed me to start doing this.”
Remington’s newfound recognition has allowed her to explore other avenues of photography and expand her repertoire. She has been able to transition seamlessly between editorial work to advertising to a cookbook for the renowned L’Auberge Carmel and Bouchée Restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.
For Remington, the switch to digital photography has been a slow one, and one that she has made with more than a little resignation. Being trained in a darkroom and spending endless hours behind closed doors, out of touch from the world and in your own creative space, is an appeal for many photographers with a film background and one that she can’t help but miss.
“I miss film for the nostalgic reasons,” she says. “I miss the darkroom, I miss being hands-on. Coming out of the darkroom at 6 a.m., smelling like chemicals after really creating something.” But it was the practical, business side of things that convinced Remington to start the switch. “I use half-film, half-digital, but I’m using less and less film during every shoot.”
And she urges any photographer to make the switch: “Max out your credit cards and go digital! Well, at least start seriously thinking about a complete digital transition. As much as I love film and darkroom printing, it’s a dying thing, with the exception of fine-art collecting, such as platinum printing.”
For someone who shoots almost primarily on location, the ease of carrying around a small camera body also appeals to Remington. It enables her to get into tight spaces and photograph in kitchens, which tend to have restricted mobility. The contrast between Remington’s elegant photography and the loud, rambunctious world of professional kitchen antics only heightens the beauty of her photographs. She has been able to experience firsthand the mayhem of the professional kitchen and go beyond the outward appearance and capture the true essence of what dedicated cooks and chefs want to share with you, beyond the sharp knives and tongues and fire-filled kitchens to the humble results of a rustic meal.
Says Remington, “I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to experience real-life kitchens quite a bit. It’s fascinating. You can’t compare it to anything else. It’s the most and hardest I’ve ever seen anyone work, especially in Europe—people working six to seven days a week, 15 hours a day in little, windowless kitchens. They’re obsessed and perfectionist, driven by the things they create.”
It’s a drive she admittedly understands as a dedicated creator of photography. She has certainly found her niche in such an intense, impassioned business. Remington adds, “I like shooting kitchens because it’s all types of photography. It’s photojournalism, documentary and fine art all in one.”
As much as Remington is inspired by raw foods and flaming kitchens, she often draws her inspiration from elsewhere. She speaks in a tone reserved for someone twice her age as she describes the stories encapsulated in antique objects left behind in her grandparents’ house. She’s moved by foreign countries, exotic cultures and by their stories that haven’t yet been captured.
“I never really get inspired by looking at other people’s images of food,” says Remington. “I’m most inspired by things like this that have nothing to do with food. I can bring that inspiration into my work and get the best results that way.
“The best advice I can give is to just go out and shoot everything. Stop talking, start listening and find inspiration in each situation you’re in—take in every memory, every smell, color, speck of light, and shoot. You’ll discover so much more about yourself and your work if you just go out and shoot.”
As an accomplished photographer at a young age, Sara Remington is certain to provide us with many more years of timeless, emotive imagery. Her artistry and uncommon sense of capturing a moment in time pay tribute to the past, present and future. Her work is a testament to youth, determination, talent and passion.
To see more of Sara Remington’s photography, visit www.sararemington.net
Article was written for DigitalPhotoPro, www.digitalphotopro.com