Zest for Life and Emptying The Jar

I have been learning about photography throughout my life, originally through books, by studying photographs and photographers and by taking a lot of photographs. I have also taken a few photography classes in the past, to learn the darkroom side of the business.

Now of course there’s the internet and anything you want to learn is really yours for the taking online. I think that sometimes there’s often too much information there, however, and facing too much choice and information can be bewildering.

I took photographs for over 25 years before I even considered doing it professionally. When I first became interested in photography, professional photographers seemed out of reach. I didn’t even know that normal people could do it for work. But it all started when my brother left to travel after college. I was only about 10 years of age.

He travelled the world to surf and he sent home really beautiful photographs – seascapes, street scenes and portraits from France, South Africa and Indonesia. It wasn’t so much the actual photographs that struck me but rather it was the thought of the act of taking the photographs. That was my initial inspirational spark, and since then it’s been a passion that has been constantly threading its way through my life. I don’t know why I love taking photographs so much, and I really don’t want to know either.

I really am more interested in the journey of my work rather than the thought of “arriving” in my career. You don’t want to be done, ever, as the process is the enjoyment of it all. On the other hand, it’s nice when your parents or siblings think you have “arrived”.

Once when I was shooting a political convention for WWD (Women’s Wear Daily magazine in the US) I was down in the front within the throng of press photographers. I got a text from my boyfriend that said “Smile, you’re on the television!” And it did make me smile. It made me feel for a moment that I had arrived.

My favourite working day is when I’m working alone in my studio. The ideal would be overcast light and nobody to disturb me. But I also love working collaboratively with anyone who is passionate about what they are doing — such as chefs when they are cooking amazing food and allowing me into their space to capture all the work in the kitchen. I enjoy working with creative people who are really passionate about what they are doing. There will often be music playing in the background, and lots of energy in the room. I also love to shoot with children as I enjoy connecting with them.

I think my work is best suited to editorial features and people mostly consider me a portrait or lifestyle shooter. I just recently added food photography to my portfolio. I’ve been shooting food for years on a more personal level (such as in Polaroids). Recently I’ve been collaborating with a client who owns a wonderful cafe and speciality food store and prepares the most delicious food. We create a foodie newspaper together, called “Empty the Jar” which emphasizes how to use all of these ingredients and products. It’s a big tabloid style paper and its production has really stretched me professionally.

Now that I have the food photography bug, I’d very much like to shoot for Gourmet magazine. But sadly, that’s not going to happen, as it has been shut down.

The photographers I’ve mostly been influenced by are those capturing real life, with a touch of romanticism or with a little bit of whimsy. Photographers who have a great eye for the obscure moment, such as Elliott Erwitt, Helen Levitt, Robert Frank and Uta Barth have been a big inspiration for me.

In the area of food photography, specifically, I’m inspired by the work of Ditte Isager and John Laurie. Photographers who are very generous with their knowledge and sharing their photo life, such as Penny de los Santos are a great inspiration to me as far as teaching me how to keep things looking real, how to do marketing and how to put myself out there, which is also very important in my career.

In 2012 I’d like to continue shooting food and producing “ Empty the Jar” as well as updating my website and portfolio, doing more marketing and learning more about Instagram and social media.

I love to travel with the people I love most in my life. Every year my family goes to Australia to visit my brother and his family and we stay a few weeks. We just love to sit on the beach and plan our next meal or snack. When I’m there I always sneak off and take some photographs, sometimes just quiet local things and every once and awhile there’s something happening like big surf and the great crowd that draws. I don’t find it hard to work away from home: at home I’m often by myself and when I travel there’s always someone around. That’s the best of both worlds.

I am fortunate where I live, because, to me, there’s just no better restaurant than ZZest, in of all places, Minnesota. It serves fresh, seasonal, local food with the most amazing layers of flavour. I like to be with people who like to cook, as I love other people’s home cooked food.

My boyfriend cooks all the time and it would be awfully nice if I never had to make any decisions and he could just bring food to me. I’ll eat just about anything when I’m out, but at home, I’m a creature of habit and somewhat of a sentimental cook. I love to try and perfect a dish from my childhood, such as gnocchi or risotto or cherry pie so that it tastes just like I remember. I’m putting a collection of these recipes into a sketchbook with all my little food doodles and food memories it’s sort of a dialogue to our children, so that when they’re grown they can have that to take with them wherever they go.

Even advertisers are starting to move towards real looking food, food that you really want to eat, instead of fake looking and overly-styled food. I think that no matter the style, contemporary or rustic, as long as the food looks real, like someone actually cooked it and someone would really enjoy eating it, the shot will look good.

If I had to give career advice to someone thinking about entering this profession I would say that if you want to shoot for money, shoot what you love and find out what you’re good at. Keep in mind that usually we’re not always our own best editors. Put together the very best portfolio of authentic, heartfelt work, market yourself in a professional manner, make very good connections in person, be kind and smile.

If you want to do photography for love alone, then don’t give up the day job. Put together a body of work from your heart, talk about it, show it to everyone, keep working, and then, maybe, good things will happen.

Further information

Mary Da Ros: www.marydaros.com

Follow Mary on Twitter: @marydaros

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