Excited to share my new photo series on native Texan foods. These photos were inspired by my recent move to the southwest and curiosity about what truly thrives in this land.
“Local” food doesn’t mean the same as “native.” While locally-grown food is admirable from a nutritional and environmental standpoint, “native” implies that this is what this land can truly support (going beyond in both areas). A native plant will thrive in this landscape independently of being farmed and has for hundreds if not thousands of years, imparting a deep knowledge of the earth and the surrounding area. I like to think of native foods as having the ultimate terroir. Pretty nerdy but really interesting!
I initially thought about photographing local cuisine – from carne asada tacos to sweet iced tea – but they didn’t have the same depth or history to me as learning about native, edible flora.
While ideating the project, I started off my research with Texas’s native plants. This list included foods I’d never thought about in a wild context: amaranth (a pre-Colombian Aztec plant related to beets), persimmons, mesquite (yup, like in BBQ), and sunflowers (sunflower seed butter!).
I ultimately narrowed down the list to three items I had easy access to – because the photo series should be unique to the area but also approachable: prickly pear cacti, pecans, and amaranth.
Though Texas hosts a healthy diversity of habitats and ecoregions, a common thread throughout the state is the intense sunlight. (After living in foggy San Francisco and blizzard-prone NYC, I love the perpetual sunshine here.) Thus a strong source of lighting was necessary for the shoot, which created rich shadows to accentuate each food’s textures. Texture is key for creating interesting – and ultimately delicious-looking – ingredients and dishes in photography.
I really resonate with minimal images that are rich in color and texture, so the backgrounds played off each food’s natural hues. The cacti paired with a muted sage green board; the chestnut-brown pecans lie on a deep red board to play up their reddish tones; and the amaranth grains pop on a pale yellow board.
The minimal setting leaves the drama to the foods themselves – of which there is plenty. I love the prickly pear paddles’ subtle indentations which grow into thorns; I also got romanced by the pecan shell’s detailed layers which protect its soft nut.
The amaranth was difficult to photograph because there was no drama – at first. The tastiest way to enjoy this pseudograin is by popping it (just like corn). By gradually toasting and then popping the amaranth, I was able to coax out more variation in color and texture for the photo.