Jenn Farrington: They Shoot Drinks, Don’t They?
Recent Portland émigré and photographer at Portland’s Straub Collaborative, Jenn Farrington’s beverage photography receives accolades from clients, contemporaries and discerning drinkers worldwide. Her work lit up the pages of Tequila: A Guide to Types, Flights, Cocktails, and Bites as...
Recent Portland émigré and photographer at Portland’s Straub Collaborative, Jenn Farrington’s beverage photography receives accolades from clients, contemporaries and discerning drinkers worldwide. Her work lit up the pages of Tequila: A Guide to Types, Flights, Cocktails, and Bites as well as the recently-released Left Coast Libations: The Art of West Coast Bartending which has been recognized by the international Tales of the Cocktail® event and nominated for a 2011 Spirited Award™ in the category of Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book.
A tireless industry advocate with an unique angle on the business, we corralled Jenn just long enough for her to sip her Bulleit, neat (ice on the side) and indulge our inquires about her adventures in food and drinks photography and what she has her sights set on since her recent arrival.
You’ve been a marketing and advertising photographer for over 13 years but your passion for drinks-specific photography developed fairly recently. What brought you over?
I was photographing a portrait of Gary Shansby of Partida Tequila at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco, November 2007. Tommy’s pours one of the most extensive collection of 100% agave tequila outside of Mexico (www.tommystequila.com).
I got to talking to Tommy’s son Julio Bermejo whose evangelism for tequila earned him the title of Ambassador of Tequila to the US. Julio guides exclusive tours of tequila distilleries in Jalisco – his knowledge about tequila is exhaustive and his passion for the subject is almost palpable. As the conversation evolved, I found myself really wanting to make images to match that energy, then Julio told he was hosting a press trip for five tequila distilleries in a few weeks and offered me a spot. I couldn’t believe the offer or the timing. It was so perfect – all I could think was, “Oh my God, YES!”
The trip itself wound up being this crucial turning point for me and my photography work and going into it, I had no idea how much I needed that experience at the time. I could not have anticipated the quality of characters that were going to be on that trip. I enjoyed the company of some of the best bartenders, writers, reps and brand ambassadors from all over the place while learning about this incredible product. It was my first chance to discover that the spirits industry are my people and the relationships established on that trip became the cornerstone for all of my connections in the industry. I can’t thank Julio or anyone from that trip enough.
As for the tequila side of the trip, it was a photographer’s dream – a chance to be around something I loved and shoot the Hell out of it. And let me explain what I mean by “love”, aside from an imbiber’s appreciation of the spirit: Agave is an amazing product of the earth and I have a tremendous respect for the people who create tequila. The agave plant is both beautiful and dangerous and it takes tremendous effort to harvest it, cook it down into a sweet pulp before mashing it beyond recognition, then distilling down into this amazing spirit. So truly, the creation process itself is dynamic, fascinating and so much fun to photograph.
Since then you’ve been shooting for a number of wine and spirits clients – any favorites?
I have a lot of favorites but I have done a lot of work with the Domaine de Canton and enjoyed every shoot. I’ve captured a bunch of their Bartender of the Year events including their first finals in St Martin. It was a great event where I was shooting lots of lifestyle imagery: people and food in more natural settings, less posed and more natural light.
I am happiest when my work crosses over into capturing the people who are passionate about what they do. I really enjoy interacting with people, which is part of the reason I love photographing people in the food and beverage industry. My drinks photography has given me access to this incredible cocktail community that’s global yet very tight with one another. It’s really the only industry of its kind with so many people from wildly different parts of the world who come together to toast. They dance the fine line between work and play every day, allowing it to be a friendly, more connected community than most industries.
From the looks of your portfolio, you aren’t exactly a slump at food photography either. You shoot in varied settings – can you speak to that a bit?
In shooting food and drink, light and space are crucial. I am attracted to any image that has “mysterious” lighting- something that pulls you in a little seductively. Texture, also, is key – the shine on a brined olive, the earthy depth of grains played against each other for a counterpoint. I welcome any shoot that gives me a chance to re-think what lighting and framing I need to bring out that feel.
I have a few different approaches when it comes to shooting food. In more formal dining settings, I like to draw viewers into that environment by creating a contrast between the organic shapes of food and the geometry of the dining space and flatware. In outdoor environments, with street food or outdoor grilling you have the magic of smoke and streaming daylight to play with. It’s not as easily controlled as a dining room, but the potential for really thrilling imagery is always there.
In both situations, you have a chance to capture something that is chaotic and beautiful – half eaten steak, rinds, leftovers, “the sated image”. As much as a structured plate appeals, I think if you can leave evidence of the tell-tale signs of a story, a gathering that we would love to have to joined, we get to what the eating is about: it’s the company, the conversation that made you talk with your hands and knock over your wine… those are the things that I, and I believe others, really desire from the dining experience and creates the most compelling imagery.
I actually would love to shoot more food, but for me it’s a matter of finding those clients whose needs are a good match to my visual story telling. Relating back to what I loved in Mexico, I am fascinated with the lineage of our food, following it from farm or forest to fork – the process of transforming a human necessity (food) into something we can take so much pleasure in creating and eventually consuming. My challenge is taking the viewer to that place, translating the tactile lushness of a fresh peach or the longing and anticipation before feasting, finding the components that reveal the delicious in a visual image.
Your recent move probably had a few people wondering what you think Portland might have over our lovely sister city to the south, San Francisco.
I have family up here and had been threatening to move for as long as I’d lived in San Francisco. I do love San Francisco and knew it would be a tough act to follow, but Portland is a serious foodie town and that made the move easier. So many of my friends from the City had already moved up here, so when I arrived I felt far more comfortable off the bat than I’d anticipated.
Some may be tempted to call Portland a little SF but I recognize that the two are wildly different than one another in many ways and I feel like I am just tapping into the details of those differences. Portland has a ton of established greatness but still has a load of potential, which is completely inspiring to my work. I have only just scratched the surface of the food and drink community here.
I frequent the places where my friends work including Clyde Common, Teardrop, Irving Street Kitchen, Beaker and Flask and Laurelhurst Market, all of which assure me that Portlanders have it stupid good in terms of eating and drinking in this town. But aside from that, I want to get out and see more places outside my comfort zone, discover new-to-me gems as well as head outside of town to see the origins of all our local products. There are a lot of already existing programs that I want to investigate along with my own field trips that will help me get out see the source of what comes to our plates - visit the orchards, talk to the people who grow and harvest the products that grace our plates. I want to be an instrument in the telling of this great part of Portland’s food and drink story.
Check out Jenn’s portfolio here
Learn about Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant here
Learn about The Spirited Awards at Tales of the Cocktail here