I became familiar with Tara Sgroi’s work after meeting Camille Becerra at Taste Talks last summer. Honestly I haven’t been feeling too creative lately and haven’t been photographing as much as I want or updating this blog as much as I wanted. But seeing Tara’s beautiful photos and her incredibly awesome 15sec videos on her Instagram feed are really kicking me in the ass to be creative again.
Q. Can you tell me what you’re trying to capture when you take your food photos?
A. I tell stories with my images and videos. My stories are related to food, people, animals, kids and my absolute favorite is when everything mingles together in a mess of a gathering where I can be invisible and capture every aspect of the moment.
Q. Do you see the world, your subject differently when you shoot video instead of photos?
A. I’ve been shooting video for a very long time, but regardless of it was still or motion I’ve always set my shots up the same way, like a movie. With food photography in general, the challenge is to make something look appetizing without tasting it, smelling it or even hearing it. Motion is incredibly seductive, you can see how something pours or bubbles and even though you’re not able to smell it, that movement in the cooking process is something everyone can relate to, they’ve seen it a million times but maybe they haven’t seen it this close or at this angle. Video has a long way to go, people don’t have that much patience for it, there’s little or no budget for video yet and there’s a sophistication in the way people perceive good photography that doesn’t exist yet with video.
Q. What is photography to you?
A. I love photography/video more than anything. My camera has taken me places I may not have gone to, it’s gotten me up early to photograph first light when I would have rather stay in bed, its made me pretend to have a point of view when I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and mostly its forced me to tell a story even if there wasn’t one. But more than that, photography makes me look, it makes me take a deep breath and watch. Photography challenges me to look at something at a different perspective, in a different light, how the shadows change throughout the day or how something grows or decays.
Q. How did you get started in photography and how has your relationship with photography evolved from then to now?
A. Ha, it’s funny to think of a time when I didn’t photograph. I went to school at the Nova Scotia College of Design and Art in Halifax, Canada and the first year we studied everything: painting, drawing, graphic design and photography. I wasn’t a very patient art student, I was easily frustrated that I couldn’t capture what was in my head on paper and I hated participating in critiques, they always ended up in group therapy like discussions. But photography was different, it had a magic to it, it was instant and gratifying. And because I liked photography I started to look at light and composition and how best to capture a moment.
When I moved to NYC at 21, I went to school at Cooper Union and had the best teachers I’ve ever had. They challenged my photography, compliments weren’t easy to come by and they made me think about how to talk about images, forcing me look at what was in front of me. We were forbidden to shoot parades, animals, kids or old people. They were all exploitive genres, instead we were taught to look at our everyday lives, to find beauty in the mundane, that was the most valuable lesson I have ever learned.
The biggest change I think for my career came when things went digital. I have always been pretty prolific when I shot but not having a dollar sign attached to a image has allowed my clients to see how my perspective changes during the shoot. And knowing that the hero image has been achieved has allowed me to go further and experiment with light or the absence of light, many times the client sees their product in a way they never anticipated. That could have never happened with film, there was always the stress of not knowing if we “had” the shot, but you were only allotted a certain number of film rolls to get that hero shot. It sounds bizarre now. So with digital I’ve been able to play and grow, which wasn’t possible then.
The most interesting change for me throughout my time as a photographer, has been Instagram. Being a photographer used to be so private and I never met anyone else who was a photographer. Instagram has become a way of sharing with other photographers and while it’s even more competitive than it was, I think it’s lit a fire and made photographers hungry for good photography. Competition is good, especially when everyone has a camera, but what Instagram has also reminded me is that a good photograph has nothing to do with what camera or lens you shoot with, a good photograph has always been about capturing a moment, great composition or a different perspective. Often, people who know nothing about photography take the best photographs because they’re reacting to what’s in front of them rather then worrying about the technical mumble jumble they just shoot. Instagram reminds me of Polaroid to some degree.
Q. Any food photography heroes? If not any photography heroes?
A. This is tough…….. there are so many good food photographers out there and I like each one for a different reason. I’m inspired by Nicole Franzen because she just so clearly loves photography and has the balls to constantly be looking and evolving. I love Andrea Gentl because every one of her images are like a window into her soul. I get excited by Sang An because he’s always playing with light and trying new perspectives. Anita Calero’s photography has the most wonderful just happened upon quality (even though I know it comes from a very knowledgeable creative sophisticated eye) I love how genuinely grateful her perspective is, like she’s thanking every beautiful thing in the world with a click of her shutter. I want to live in everything that Roland Bello has ever photographed. It has to be more than food photography for me though, it gets kind of boring if it’s just plate after plate… that’s why I guess I chose the photographers, you start to feel as though you know the photographer when they’re so prolific and you start to like them too.
Q. Best meal you had in 2013?
A. I can’t say because my meals are so intertwined with experience so here are three best meal experiences in 2013: In Tulum at Posada Margarita just off the beach with stars in the sky, candles flickering in the sea air and they make pasta to order. The second, Bowery Banquet dinners cooked by Camille Becerra were ridiculously good and it’s just such an amazing collective of people and music. And lastly picking basil with my mom in Mexico and making the most incredible pesto for Christmas eve dinner.
All photos courtesy of Tara Sgroi.