Thursday, July 31, 2014

Not Your Typical Wednesday Night Supper Club

I had just gotten home from work yesterday, put on comfy clothes, and dived into bed for a quick nap before my second run when Gary (of Ask Asheville and G Social Media) called asking if I could come photograph an event that evening. Of course, I immediately began crafting an elaborate excuse, but then he told me more about this event; a rooftop dinner at the Social Lounge and Tapas Bar. Chef Anthony Cerrato of Strada was to prepare three special dishes (appetizer, entree, and dessert) to pair with three cocktails featuring new, special liquors. Oh, and Gary would pay for my dinner. Well, you just don't say no to a free dinner, especially of this caliber, so of course I said yes. And was very glad I did!

That's Gary and his phone in the background. It's pretty funny attending a dinner with  [multiple] networking and media people because just as much of the dinner happens online as it does in person.

To say that the Social Lounge is known for their cocktails is an understatement. Voted the #1 Cocktail Bar in Asheville by the Mountain XPress, as a freshly-21-year-old I was interested to try their drinks. I had a workout the next morning, so I only sipped each, but it was a fun experience tasting each special cocktail with its respective delicious dish.

We started of with a one of my favorite types of upscale restaurant appetizers - prosciutto-wrapped figs.  Stuffed with basil whipped goat cheese and topped with a chianti glaze, each savory-sweet creamy bite melted in my mouth. Social Lounge's signature "Butter Cup"  (Vanilla vodka, pineapple, rosemary, lemon and cinnamon ) played sidekick to the figs, and this was definitely my favorite drink of the dinner. Its fruity sweet and sourness paired nicely with that of the fig, and only left me more excited for the next plate.

Purus Vodka (100% Italian wheat) is becoming the talk of the town around Asheville, and our second drink featured this special liquor. With its recyclable glass, soy ink, and water-based glue, this Go-Green company has obviously found its niche in Asheville.

I was expecting good pasta - it's a renowned Mediterranean restaurant, after all - but I was not prepared for the creamy, wonderfully starchy noodles topped with rich pork jowl that I immediately scarfed down. Paired with a "Moscow Mule," (Purus Vodka, lime, fresh ginger) an adult limeade in my opinion, this dinner was a little better than the leftover stuffed peppers I'd planned on heating up.

Dessert has a special place in my heart (and stomach) so I impatiently waited for our hazelnut pana cotta. If you're a fan of Nutella, this is your dessert - perfectly sweet and rich pudding topped with whipped cream, and a couple nutty garnishes. Our dessert cocktail featured Mystic Bourbon
(represented among the eaters on the rooftop.) The elderflower and honey bourbon with a hint of orange paired nicely with the chocolate (orange and chocolate sure do know how to tango together.)

 Brooklyn did what I only thought about - licked the whole ramekin clean! The pana cotta was simply that good.

Great food, great views, and a beautiful evening (60s in July, who'd've thunk it.) Thanks to Chef Anthony, Gary, and the Social Lounge for a wonderful dinner!

Check out Ask Asheville to read more about our dinner and the Social Lounge's future events!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Under the Sea: Summer Photography Fun

Sometimes the best way to love your own photography is to put it away for a while, especially if you've been critiquing a project for too long. When you pull those old friends back out of the virtual filing cabinet and reacquaint yourself with them, you often see the photos in a new light and realize you could have been happy with them in the first place. 

A couple years ago, I hit a mind-block with this film shoot. Right after I uploaded the scanned files to my computer, I spent an hour or more looking back and forth through the album trying to tell myself that the excessive graininess and the "incorrect" focus were artsy effects, that they added interest. At the time, the message would not get through, but now I realize that I was correct. As I was culling through my external hard drive trying to find sneaky ways to create more space, I stumbled across this fun underwater session and fell in love for keeps this time.

These ethereal little models are, in fact, my cousins, and this shoot was a far cry from the high-drama, high-tech (I used an $8 Fujifilm point-and-click disposable waterproof camera) underwater shoots that grace magazine covers. But, that does not mean I had any less fun shooting it.

I fervently believe in the importance of teaching kids to love and embrace art, in any medium they choose. I also strongly believe in enjoying artistic pursuits - the "art" disappears when it begins to feel like work. So, while babysitting one warm afternoon when they were chomping at the bit to cannonball into the pool and I was itching for the click of a shutter, I decided we had the perfect opportunity for some creative fun. And what splash the idea made!
To be honest, half of my motivation came from the need to occupy these two crazies. I thought we might wrestle out a few funny action shots of the kids cannonballing before they got bored and started splashing each other (and me.) But I gave my cousins far too little credit, they rose (and sank) to the occasion in true energetic-child fashion and turned out to be wonderfully fun models.

The difficult thing about underwater photography is that the photographer and subjects have to compose themselves and the shot while chlorinated water fills their eyes, taking into account the lighting, body positions, facial expressions, and overall composition. (Oh, and you can't breathe. Perhaps a snorkle would have been a good investment.) Nonetheless, we braved the elements, first just practicing holding our breath under water long enough to get a decent shot, then having the kids jump into the water to explore what bubbly results we could get. By the end of the roll when we'd really hit our creative stride, we tested the capacity of our lungs with both subject and photographer swimming to and fro, but mostly toward each other, taking more care in creating interesting compositions.

The end result was a series of beautifully grainy, somewhat unfocused, bubble-filled, blue-saturated shots capturing the unbridled amusement of an afternoon of family swimming. The kids even enjoyed themselves enough to hug each other for my last exposure.

An afternoon time-killer, a way to get kids outside and active, an introduction into art - and a fun one at that - for said kids, and a beautiful keepsake for years to come; photography in all its versatility is truly the art of the people.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fun in the Sun: My Story

"If we don't tell our own stories, no one else will tell them." Lately, I've been reading Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein, a collection of anecdotes from the author's radio show Studio 360 showcasing and investigating various noteworthy creative people's artistic processes. Filmmaker Mira Nair's discussion about using her personal history to inspire her films stuck out to me.

 I rarely turn the camera on myself, instead focusing on telling others' stories. However, there is something to be said for remembering your own narrative. So this year when my family took the annual beach trip, I brought along my trusty Vivitar 3800 and a couple rolls of Fujifilm color to document the vacation. I didn't want to just take the typical beach selfies and ocean shots that troll the Instagrammaverse, but I wasn't striving to capture any mold-breaking photos either (although I certainly wouldn't throw them out.) I wanted to just capture the essence of fun and relaxation, however I saw it. Because I can't just casually take photographs of family fun at the beach (for better or for worse I had to turn it into a thought-out series; one of the hazards of spending too much time in photography class, I suppose) I decided to see how my family takes on a beach vaca versus the rest of the burnt-to-a-crisp ocean visitors.

To do so, I layered generic "beachy" shots with images of my family, myself, or things I found interesting, sometimes even just with other "beachy" scenes. I did this through multiple exposure, meaning I shot the roll and wound it as far back to the beginning as I could go without completely winding in the film for development (I probably made a rather funny site standing on the beach camera in one hand, grasping the reel with the other, intent expression on my face, turning the reel ever so painstakingly as I tried to feel the tension to know how far I'd wound the film) and then shot the whole roll again. I had to, of course, take into account that layering exposures in-camera necessitates shutter speed and aperture tweaks to avoid overexposure, so the whole experiment was fun and a bit nerve-wracking since I didn't really know how the photos would turn out.

I was very happy with the quality of the photographs overall - a pleasant aesthetic change from the sharp and color-saturated digital shots I tend to capture - and am especially pleased with the 1960s quality of color that the multiple exposures created. That the exposures did not overlap exactly within the same plane makes them all the more imperfectly interesting, the darker lines simply create a geometric frame. It is the story that these collaged images tell that I'm most excited about. Of course, the narrative probably means more to me than it does to the general public, but sometimes the more personal the images to the photographer, the more relatable to the audience. Scenes of playing in the ocean, reading on the beach, enjoying time spent with family - all normal beach activities - interwoven with visual metaphors for my propensity for daydreaming (guess which surreal photo that is) and distaste for large crowds, create a collage of what comes to my mind first regarding the beach.

A lot of artists don't like explaining their work, rather they let it speak for itself. There is nothing wrong with that. But, to me, there is a kind of vulnerability in telling how I conceptualized and perceive my finished project, allowing the viewers to decide for themselves whether they see the same message. What's more, as a soft-spoken observer, I rarely share my thoughts candidly, instead choosing to illustrate them through photographs and vivid writing, an art in itself. This series, capturing my personal experience in a place by overlaying generic popular images of it and personal experiences there, is one that I intend to continue in my (hopefully soon) world travels in a pursuit to devour culture and drink in art of societies around the globe. I create art not solely for the joy of the creation (though that is certainly part of it) but to share that joy of my creative experience with others, to show the importance of art in all of our lives. So in continuing this series, I intend to share the beauty of personal artistic experiences (relatable to all) with whomever will listen - and see.