On a rainy Saturday in Provence, I awoke to the distant rumbling of thunder sparing with the town’s bell tolls marking the hour to awake. It was market day in my village, I had no choice but to brave the rain and I’m glad I did for it led me to these melon toned roses that set my day on a new path and brought to life the natural curiosities all around me…
I was in a bit of a creative block today.
I have so many things I want to photograph and create that at times I find it overwhelming. On top of that, when I do create work that I feel really satisfied with I have this moment of pride and joy and then the terror of oh God, what am I going to do next? To take a photograph is one aspect of photography, to make a photograph is another. Making a photograph, a process I have been sharing in more and more detail on my Instagram stories, requires a harmony of light, technical knowledge, talent and what feels like a billion…painful…gut wrenching decisions. Sometimes when I’m starting out my day setting up the camera I can feel paralyzed with the daunting amount of decisions that are ahead. Internal monolog: “What’s the theme today, what do I want to communicate, what prop do I want to use, what do I have lying around, what is missing, what does it need, where should the shadows fall, which lens, which aperture, should their be one petal…two… five… ten?… maybe turned a hair to the left, no get rid of them all. God, what I did yesterday was so much better. Did I just peak?…” For example.
A few times the past few months I’ve given in and continued my series on the history of Versailles in an attempt to bury my head in a pillow. But most days I just take a deep breathe and try to quiet my mind down to one thing. Just start with one thing. That’s my best advice for anyone stuck with where to begin, with what to photograph. I have found that once I get my camera set up, choose that one thing (today I started with plums) the wheels start turning and one thing leads to another, as it does in life, and voila! You are on the move making the decisions that were so crippling moments before. The one thing doesn’t have to be a prop either, or subject matter, you can start with just say a lens. I’m going to shoot with my macro lens. You make that first decision and then that leads to the next and so on. Other times I have just started with a spot of beautiful light raking across the floor, well the floor was dirty so I covered it, then I found something I had lying around that could play in the light and I was off to the races.
This still life started with plums and ended with a concept around an Autumn harvest, a sort of chaotic cornucopia which is a pretty accurate representation of where my mind was today. I raided my fruit bowls, tore apart my bouquets and foraged for more figs from the garden. Then, in one of the ways photography can truly become magical, a bee flew in the windows and landed right in my still life and I was once again, satisfied.
Perhaps the most meaningful personal shoot of the year comes every December. We sit down and talk about what the year meant and how to capture that in a photograph. How to express where we were at that time. I shoot the annual Ann Street Studio holiday card photograph in the same format each year, on a 4×5 film camera with black and white Ilford film.
This year’s image crossed continents twice from start to finish. It begins in France, taken in the afternoon light of Provence with flowers I bought at my little town’s Saturday farmer’s market. After I framed the flowers just so, I used two magazines to manipulate and block the natural light of part of the background and on some of the arrangement while the shutter stayed opened for 30seconds. I shot somewhere around 15 plates with variations on lighting and exposures then packed them up and brought the sheets of film back to New York with me to be hand processed at LTI.
As always, I took the processed film and contact sheets to my favorite darkroom lab in Boston which I pilgrimage to every winter and spent two days hand printing the set of 200 on Ilford warm tone fiber base paper.
I brought the final 200 back to France with me and spent days by the window light addressing each one, some with added personal notes, to be mailed out all over the world. It is a long process but one that brings me great joy in a digital age. To give someone a physical object you made with your heart, soul and abilities is like having a small piece of me in your home. The sense of pride I feel when people send me photos of the image framed in their home makes me feel grateful that I am a photographer. However, for the most part I don’t know what people do with them. I like to imagine someone using one as a bookmark to later discover again years from now. I like to fantasize a child or grandchild will come across one decades from now in an old box and feel a connection to me or at least to who I once was. They don’t have to know me personally but I hope they know my work.
France is a culture of cheese, chief amongst the reasons we get along so very well. One of my favorite stops each Saturday at the market is with my local fromager, Clement. His wife’s family raise sheep and have been making cheese for generations. He attends five different markets each week, selling only the finest fromage, has been utterly sweet to me, and is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about his products.
For this particular cheese plate I created on an unexpectedly balmy December afternoon I asked Clement to recommend a variety of cheeses from different regions of France with different textures, colors, and flavor profiles. Some young, some aged, soft, firm, creamy, cow’s milk, goat, sheep. His suggestions of 5 cheeses (4 of which are available in the US from Murry’s Cheese, my FAVORITE cheese store in New York, and linked below!) led to the most beautifully decedent platter mixed in with a symphony of dried fruits, nuts, olives, tapenades, honey and saussions (cured meats) from the local market.
Recently we shot a cinemagraph series for Cointreau, an orange-flavored liqueur produced in Saint-Barthélemy-d’Anjou, France, which brought in a flurry of butterflies and easy summer cocktail recipes into the studio. Light, simple and delicious I found them to be the perfect charming drink to serve your guests and friends this summer holiday weekend without finding yourself spending too much time crafting a cocktail.
THE ORIGINAL COINTREAU RICKEY
– 2 oz Cointreau
– 1 oz fresh lime juice
– 4 oz club soda
Pour Cointreau and fresh lime juice into a glass and add ice. Top with Club soda and stir. Garnish with a lime and orange zest.
More entertaining ideas and inspiration here!
I have a very, very deep love for roses that goes all the way back to my childhood. It first began in with my grandmother’s rose bushes, trimming them, cutting the flowers to take to my elementary school teachers. Growing up in Texas my father would always bring me a dozen yellow roses on special occasions and now from time to time when I come home from New York to visit.
This past summer I put a lot of love and attention on the terrace at the back of our studio in Tribeca. It’s a small urban garden but in a city this compact I feel pretty lucky to have the amount of outdoor space I do. I grew my first rose garden, the flowers in these shots I cut from these bushes. I was so proud every time a new bud would emerge and in the mornings when I sat outside with my coffee I would touch the petals and remember the sweet lingering memories of my childhood.
Tending to a garden, making sure that someone is there to take care of it when you’re traveling or working the hours away was a lesson for me. A lesson in care, patience and pride. I realized, it’s not unlike relationships. If you don’t tend to them, take care of them, they too can wither and die. It’s not much that we need, just some sunlight and water and it’s amazing what things can blossom into and make your life a richer place.
So on this Valentine’s Day I give you roses and I hope your own gardens are full of love.
more natural beauty…
How does perfume emerge into the world? I recently tried Balenciaga’s newest creation by creative director Alexander Wang, called B.Balenciaga. The frosted bottle reminded me of a block of ice, perhaps a place where all creative ideas are frozen and then as they emerge into fruition begin to melt away, slowly, as ice turns into liquid.
As winter descends upon us I look forward to the spring, the thawing of ideas, the emergence of beautiful florals and that mossiness of the forest damp from the melting snow. But until then, I’ll take this scent made for women like me: romantic and modern, delicate as a flower and as strong as ice.
Natural beauty comes in all forms, in the bareness of a woman’s face, the sweeping landscape of our earth’s vistas, the colors of a sunset and in a precious metal that came crashing down to earth 4 billion years ago: GOLD. We talk about gold jewelry here a lot from what it means to us to where we wear it. I’m always inspired by what designers do with these natural elements, how they create magic with something that traveled across the universe and existed here before mankind.
Modeled by my own natural beauty muse Alli Lanier here are 5 new jewelry designers I’m finding inspiring these days to watch~
Temple St. Clair
Temple St. Clair began, like many great works of art, in Florence, Italy in 1986. A city where the namesake designer still draws inspiration from stating, “Each object that I create carries the soul of the history of the artisans of Florence.” With her signature cocktail rings, rock crystal amulets and elegant gold work, this very chic woman has created a line of jewelry that is collected by in-the-know women that appreciate the balance of art, history and craftsmanship.
This weekend I was gathering up all of the dying flowers in their arrangements around the studio to throw away and be replaced with new, young, fresh varieties I would pick up on my errands about town. As I pulled these out of the vase I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful they were in their delicate paper thin skin, and how sculptural the leaves had become. To me, they took on the form of dancers, if dancers were caught in a gust of wind and then frozen in time at that perfect expressive moment…
more natural beauty…
Some years ago, I made friends with a couple of charming New Yorkers – Mike Drapkin and Theresa Berenato – who have started a new chapter in their life since getting married: Kingston Wine Co, a charming wine store in upstate New York, just on the other side of the Hudson River from Rhinebeck. I am dying to get up to the shop and see what these two amazing souls have created but in the meantime while we entertain our busy lives, we are enjoying Kingston Wine Co.’s wine share program. This amazing package of wine that gets delivered by mail to you, curated by Mike himself (which, if you know Mike, you know he lived on a farm in southern France and worked as sommelier for a decade in places like Balthazar and Vestry Wines in Tribeca, so you KNOW it’s going to be good). Included in the package is the history of the wine, its grower’s story and a recipe suggestion by Mike and Theresa to enhance the experience of the wine. We love it. So cheers to you, friends, and thank you for the little package of love that arrives each month…I HIGHLY recommend it.
photographic recreation of Jean-Siméon Chardin’s still life “Still Life with Bottle, Glass, and Loaf“
I understand from my sister that your present intention is to travel; to return to England. I have decided, after long consideration, to write to you. We have travelled together, and I hope we have become friends sufficiently to – my dear Lady Anna, let me dispense with attempts to be clever or discreet. I am in love with you. There. It is said. For many, many years I have believed it was my fate never to say these words. A long time ago I had hoped, as all young men hope – no, I had mor ethan hoped, I had confidently expected to be overtaken by those feelings I had read so much about. It never happened. And now it has.
Ahdaf Soueif, “The Map of Love“
We have been talking about these old-fashioned artifacts at the studio recently when our assistant brought in a four page, monogrammed love letter she had received (which inevitably ended up on a shoot!). Do people still write love letters? I got to thinking about it and when you open your mind to the written word of love you begin to see it everywhere. In Santiago I found Pablo Neruda’s Love Poems; in the book “Map of Love” Sharif al-Baroudi’s love letter to Lady Anna brought tears to my eyes, and in the film HER, our main character makes a living writing beautiful handwritten letters. What is so special about ink on paper that when we receive one – even if the feeling is not reciprocated – we can’t throw it away? Will one day, people feel sentimental about emails in the same vein or will all our digital maps of love disappear like the flash of a Snapchat?…
Recently I had the pleasure of taking a little crash course in flower arranging with Belle Fleur at the Flower School of New York over sips of Veuve Clicquot Rosé champagne. I’m always photographing flowers here at the studio as a personal project and quite honestly, it’s one of my favorite photographic subjects. I am always in awe of the beauty of a rose, the fold of a tulip, the color of a ranunculus or the smell of a hyacinth. The abstract lines and organic textures become something else though the lens of a camera, allowing each flower to have its own personality, life, expression, and age not unlike the way we are as humans. Since we have beautiful flowers around so often it was really nice to pick up a few tips and tricks on making your own arrangements at home! Read below to find out what I learned…
On arranging: Arrange in your hand. Start with the biggest flower as your “anchor” and build around that. You can cut your flower arrangement to the correct height for your vase by putting the vase at the edge of the counter and holding the arrangement next to it for the desired height and cut. To keep the flowers in the arrangement you created tie a clear rubber band around the stems to hold in place.
On cutting flowers: You do not have to cut under water when you buy quality flowers, but you should put them in water seconds after cutting as a “scab” immediately begins to form over the freshly cut end. Every few days, re-snip the ends of the arrangement to get fresh water into the flower and have it last longer. Cut the ends at an angle so water travels UP!
Yesterday the most magical thing happened, a butterfly flew into the studio, dancing around all the little flower arrangements left over from last week’s shoot. There is something special about nature when it’s brought indoors. As I watched this delicate little creature flutter around our lofty space it reminded me of childhood memories in Texas, chasing monarchs through the yard. We talk a lot about the meaning of a cinemagraph, how it exists as living photo. We wanted to cinemagraph this moment to forever remember the simple joy of nature fluttering in our open windows and making us stop and smile at its beauty. I wanted to remember the little girl I once was who had nothing to worry about on those summer afternoons but to study butterflies and be enchanted by nature…
PS- did you know we once bought sleeping butterflies for a photo shoot? They come in envelopes in a box with an ice pack. The cool temperature makes them dormant and you can dip your finger in orange soda or some sort of sweet liquid and place them there where they will stay, wake up, drink, flap there wings for a couple of mins before flying off. It’s really the most fun!
*we took the butterfly outside and released it back on its journey in the middle of Manhattan*