It’s been too long once again. Not because I haven’t wanted to write, but because there are only so many hours in the day.
Summer is always a double-edged sword for me – on the one hand it’s great to spend more time with my girl, more time entertaining friends on our roof deck (the cocktail of the summer is the pistachio sour) and more time just lazing on a lounger reading beneath the stars on a warm summer night.
On the other hand it’s always a time of enormous creative frustration. The light is so amazing, the markets are groaning with the most glorious produce and the temptation to spend time time playing in the kitchen and photographing the results is so very, very strong.
But it’s been punishingly hot here – too hot to turn the oven on – camps finish early, it’s a struggle just to complete my regular work (astonishingly I seem to have pulled together a portfolio of regular clients – Edible Seattle, Seattle Refined and Zagat’s, and have been doing a lot more commercial work) and a house full of tween girls making videos to Taylor Swift songs is not very conducive to creativity.
This year that tug of inspiration, that craving to follow the muse’s siren song to the exclusion of everything and everybody else has been overwhelming thanks to two amazing workshops I’ve attended in recent months.
You already know Ilva and Jamie of Plated Stories fame. When I heard that Jamie and her husband Jean-Pierre had acquired a small hotel in Chinon in the Loire Valley I of course had to invite myself over for a visit while I was in Europe. Before very long a whole workshop was being arranged, with Ilva too, under the title ‘Finding Inspiration’.
Because obviously inspiration is hard to come by when you’re visiting the world’s most charming hotel (of which more another day) in the world’s most charming small French town (also of which more another day), under the tutelage of two incredibly patient, generous and supremely talented women and while sharing the whole experience with a bunch of other immensely talented, smart and funny photographers and writers. We ate delicious meals in Jamie’s kitchen, critiqued each other’s work, bounced ideas off each other and chatted long into the night, while our eyes and minds drank in more beauty than any eyes and minds should reasonably have the right to expect.
Was that my camera clicking from early morning until nightfall? Perhaps finding inspiration wasn’t such as struggle after all.
The summer’s second workshop blew my mind too, but in a totally different way. After reading my friend and mentor Jackie Donnelly’s write up of Seattle portrait photographer John Keatley’s Survival Guide workshop, I knew I had to attend. Even if it meant heading to St. Louis (which, as it turns out, is charming and fun, with killer ice cream and barbecue).
This time I didn’t even turn my camera on. Instead I listened as John, his wife Nichelle and his assistant Taylor told us everything they had learned about running a successful photography business. And by everything, I mean EVERYTHING. How to market yourself, how to pitch, how to bid on a project, how to invoice and even what thank you presents to send afterwards. We talked branding and direction, target markets and dream clients, got right into the weeds with finances and had our portfolios constructively and comprehensively critiqued by both John and our peers. The workshop was held in food photographer Rob Grimm’s awe-inspiring studio – it was worth the price of admission alone just to spend time in that space – and the creative energy sparked and fizzed all weekend.
This time the only pictures I came away with were a few grainy phone pics (I’m hating on my iPhone 5s with fire of a thousand suns currently) but instead tucked into my suitcase was something infinitely more precious, a small notebook with the text of every one of John’s slides, covered with all my own hastily-scribbled notes – the blueprint for growing my own business to the next level and beyond. Let’s all hope that my scribbles are actually legible.
It’s funny how inspiration strikes – a scrap of an idea here, a fleeting picture there, a story or a conversation that will lead you off in a whole new direction, changing your life in big ways and small. Chinon’s incredible fleamarket inspired me to visit the antique shops of Snohomish, where I ended up buying a set of vintage weighing scales like the ones Jamie had in her kitchen. Walking through the chateau de Chinon chatting with Ilva led me to reread a couple of biographies of Eleanor of Aquitaine (who spent part of her life in Chinon) and then to watch the supremely fabulous Empire (which is based on her story – Eleanor’s not Ilva’s). My late night conversations with Stacey have inspired me to search for a studio and my portfolio reviews with John Keatley and Rob Grimm have made me want to focus more on my still-life food photography. I want to blog more and market myself more, grow my Instagram following and rebrand my website and collaborate with more people and start teaching workshops. But above all else I just want to make images and write stories. My head is currently bursting with them.
On Sunday we’re off to spend a few weeks on Whidbey Island, so I can relax and recharge and make the most of the final weeks of what has been an incredible summer here in the PNW. But come September 9th when school finally goes back, I’m SO ready to put all this pent-up inspiration to good use.
The images in this post were made in Jamie’s apartment under Ilva’s watchful eye. Through their blog posts and Facebook updates those two inspire me every single day. (Here is their take on the subject of Inspiration).
I’m so happy to see you so full of energy and inspiration and I’m looking forward to see what you will be creating so keep us updated here please! And what about a Skype session soon? I’m all alone in Milan every evening this upcoming week (unless I manage to make people go out for lots of aperitivi…)
Paola Thomas says
Ilva, I would love to Skype! We’re on vacation out on one of the islands this week though so we might be busy in the mornings here. Next week would be better for me as the kid will be at summer camp… Does that work for you?
Wonderful post Paola. Your pictures are stunning. Oh, and I second everything you said about Jamie and Ilva’s workshop in Chinon. A wonderfully inspiring experience.
Paola Thomas says
Thanks Lora, I LOVED meeting you in Chinon and am so glad our paths remain crossed on Facebook. I hope you’re carrying on with your writing, I still think of that unbelievably moving piece you wrote…
Paola, I have had this blog post open on my screen since you posted it but I have been so verklempt I didn’t know what to comment for fear of sounding trite or clichéd. the biggest compliment anyone could give us is wanting to attend not one but two (or three???) of our workshops. You have such talent and originality, it is such a pleasure and honor to think that I could teach you, influence you, push you. As Ilva says, we are watching you and I, for one, feel like a proud parent! I am also waiting for your return to Chinon so we can go to the brocante together!
Paola Thomas says
Jamie, if I’d expressed even half of what your two workshops have meant to me, you would be blushing, but fortunately I have my hard-nosed reputation to consider 🙂
I’m also trying to work out if I can tack on a visit to the brocante, er you, when I come back to England in October.
You have an incredible eye, Paola, for composition and colour. You’ve achieved a smoky, moody atmosphere yet with a sharp resolution of detail…something one would image is self contradictory. You present…some muddy, some vibrant…hues played within the richness of the simple objects theymselves and just the right amount of backdrop. And what makes it all so very special is precisely that, the negative space is a layered nuance of textured surfaces that fill the visual plain with just the right amount of fanfare to allow the objects to star. Cases in point, the plum wine cloth beneath the radishes and slices of salumi and the genius golden yolk in counterpont to the overall field of soft blues, earthtones and grays. Just lovely.
Paola Thomas says
OK, Bianca, so now I’m REALLY blushing, I think you’ve just made my year. To get such support and encouragement from someone who really knows that they’re talking about means the world.
What a wonderful post. It was so nice to meet you and to get to know you a bit in Chinon. I hope our paths cross again someday! Your photos are truly stunning and brought back some wonderful memories of those exercises. Have to agree about how wonderful Chinon and the Plated Stories workshop was. Jamie and Ilva are fantastic leaders and I learned so much from both of them.
Congratulations on all of your assignments! Really wonderful and I hope you are able to grow your business as you envision!
Thanks Renee. I loved meeting you too and experiencing your beautiful words and pictures. A HUGE part of the fun of these workshops for me is meeting all my fellow students and being inspired by everyone’s work, and I thought our group in Chinon was fab! I do hope our paths cross again too… and in the meantime there’s always blogs and Facebook 🙂
Okay, I’m officially green with envy….of your great experiences and your exquisite photographs. If I took one of your projected workshops would there be any applications to whole table settings? You know thats what I need good photograpy for.
Thanks m’dear. The first workshop I’m giving will be in England, so maybe not so convenient for you 🙂 But I’m planning one for next year someone near Seattle, and maybe we could do some tabletop stuff then. I’d love to photograph your gorgeous table
I would love it if you did!