I’m writing you this week from atop the folding zone of a Brussels laundromat. (Behold the sexy and glamorous life of a world traveler!) Beau and I are here staying with friends and getting a little rest after all the excitement and chaos of Paris last week.
The photography and creativity workshop we hosted there was such a good one! We spent 5 days shooting, eating, drinking and sharing real talk with some amazing women.
This year we were able to rent my friend Zoé’s photography studio. Which turned out to be an absolute game changer.
First, because I didn’t have to schlep a suitcase full of equipment and props from home. (I HATE schlepping. You know the person who will risk breaking a leg carrying 8 grocery bags in from the car up the steps to the house rather than make 2 trips? Yeah, thassss me.)
Second, because I didn’t have to spend a small fortune buying props in Paris. Ok, tbh, I kinda sorta actually love shopping for gorgeous ceramics and linens and tableware in Paris. (Duh.) But then we’re back to that whole schlepping problem…
Third, and most importantly, because working in someone else’s space with someone else’s props and backdrops was a crazy huge creativity boost.
When I’m shooting at home, I always have a general sense of how I want things to go. But working in a new space I had no preconceived vision of how the shoot might go. I didn’t even plan out what I’d be styling and shooting with our guests. I decided to keep things fresh by just hitting my fave Paris market and working with whatever produce looked especially photogenic that day. (Ok, I might have run out of time to plan it all out and decided to wing it.) In the end it was sort of like a cross between Top Chef and Project Runway—but for food photography!
And it turns out planning nothing changed everything.
Instead of creating a shot list and laying everything out in my mind, and then literally in the studio, the whole day felt like play. I was able to ask the group: What if we tried backdrop? How do you feel about this color linen? Let’s see if this plate is speaking to us…
Improvising each step opened up space to experiment. And experimentation is the oxygen creativity needs to breathe. The whole process led to unexpected results. Zoé shoots mostly bright and natural. I like the chiaroscuro of strong light, hard shadows and moody jewel tones. Working with Zoé’s tools pushed me out of my usual habits and rhythms and forced me to create in a different way.
And I gotta say, I’m feeling the results pretty hard.
I like to think of this as the universe reminding those of us with control-freak tendencies (oh, hello) that creativity needs both structure and improvisation to take form.
So the next time you’re struggling to come up with a fresh idea or wrap your head around what your next design, photo shoot, blog post or pitch might look like--try loosening the reins for a day. Wipe the slate clear. Head to a new space. Pick up a new set of tools. And see what magic might arise.
Roasted Figs with Mozzarella (a recipe to improvise)
- 8-12 large or 15-20 small firm-ripe figs
- fruity olive oil
- dry white wine
- 1 lemon or small orange
- crunchy or flaky sea salt
- 2 balls fresh mozzarella
- sliced and toasted bread (optional)
Preheat your oven to 500°F/260°C.
Slice 8-12 large or 15-20 small firm-ripe figs in half and place in a roasting pan. Drizzle with a tablespoon or so of fruity olive oil and about 1/4 cup white wine (use water if you don't do alcohol). Add large strips of zest cut with a vegetable peeler from a small lemon or orange then squeeze the juice into the pan. Drizzle with a little honey and top with a pinch of salt. Roast for 10-15 mins (until bubbling). Add a little water at the end to deglaze if the sauce gets too thick.
The roasted figs are delicious over vanilla ice cream, yogurt or cake. (Or eaten warm straight from the pan lol.)
But to make this salad, tear 2 balls of fresh mozzarella into large pieces. Arrange on a serving platter and salt lightly. Arrange the figs and zest over the mozzarella. Drizzle with the juices from the pan and a little more olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with crunchy salt and serve as a salad or on slices of toasted bread (which is an especially delicious breakfast).
Makes about 4 servings.