This last week I spent intensive hands-on study time with the well-known English food and garden photographer, Francesca Yorke. She led a course at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops for eight of us interested in gardens and food. The course made a sensible progression from making images of flowers and plants along a city street, through visiting some interesting and different gardens, then photographing a bustling farmers market and a garden store, and finally doing some hands-on cooking and photography with Chef John Vollertsen (Johnny Vee) at his Las Cosas Cooking School.
Francesca Yorke is a superb teacher who is able to give frank and honest criticism without intimidation or belittlement. She has shot some of the most famous gardens and worked with some of the most well-known food personalities in England, so her experience is rich. Each day she showed us some of her best images, and that provided a wonderful learning experience and inspiration.
Our first visit was Santa Fe’s famous Canyon Road where we had the opportunity to shoot images of flowers in planter boxes, wildflowers growing in vacant yards, or interesting leaves and berries on shrubs and trees along the sidewalks. Although things had begun to fade in anticipation of the autumn, there was still an abundance of color for all of the student photographers.
For a couple of days, we traveled to several gardens in the city and in Albuquerque. Grasses were in abundance, there was interesting statuary aplenty, and some of the leaves had begun to change into the radiant hues of autumn – reds, yellows, and dappled oranges. In one garden, there was a menagerie of piglets, sheep, goats, and chickens so that there were lots of action and human interest photo opportunities for those of us who were getting a little bored with flowers.
The farmers market was a busy place with vendors selling all sorts of fruits and vegetables, chili roasters going full blast, and lots of people who made for terrific photo opportunities. The garden store, too, was a great place for photos not only of flowers, but also of pots, watering cans, prowling insects, and tools.
Every day we took time out for lunch at restaurants which Francesca had chosen to reflect good cooking and good eating. Then she took us to her studio where we practiced food styling with a cornucopia of items she had purchased at the local store. We used her collection of bottles, jars, cutlery, bowls, plates, and linens to try our hands at creating photo images that would be suitable for a magazine article or for inclusion in a cookbook. While none of us succeeded in that goal, there were plenty of great shots. Fran looked over our shoulders with helpful suggestions without being intrusive.
The last day was clearly the highlight of the whole experience. We traveled to Las Cosas kitchen store where we were met by the enthusiastic Chef Johnny Vee (John Vollertsen). We took turns cooking and photographing a meal prepared from recipes in Johnny’s cookbook, “Cooking with Johnny Vee” (Gibbs Smith Publisher). The menu was simple but interesting – garden herb focaccia, farmer’s market salad with tomato confit and goat cheese “truffles”, artichoke ravioli with lemon and Parmesan cream, and strawberry buttermilk biscuit shortcake. Everyone participated in the cooking so we all pronounced it delicious. And it was!
Then back to the workshop where we viewed the best of the best images from the class. There were some amazing photos. Francesca had done her job, and the class departed with newly honed photographic skills and a new set of photographer friends.