If you love food and the journey that comes along with it, then it’s hard not to fall in love with Penny De Los Santos’ photos. She tells a story through provisions. Her portraits transport you around the world and leaves you standing in the middle of a plate. Miss De Los Santos has a way of capturing food images that will have you salivating and practically make you believe you are tasting the dish. Her joie de virve is apparent with the way she sees life through the lens. Grabbing precious moments with a click and encapsulating them for all time. In my opinion Penny is the creme de la creme of food photographers and will only continue to dazzle us with her images. She works with National Geographic as a contributing photographer and is now the senior contributing photographer for Saveur Magazine. She lent her talent to Creative Live with a 3 day photo seminar, for all to learn from. It doesn’t get any better than that. Penny touches my heart with her work and spirit.
I had the pleasure of asking Penny a few food questions in mid- September. Here’s what we talked about.
Photograph taken by: Ericka Sanchez
Me: Since your “dream big and leap” move to New York City…. What foods or restaurants are giving you comfort in your new home town?
Penny: I’ve been here just over a week. So…. hmmm. There is this place that I love, it’s called Buvette, it’s in the west village. It’s a really wonderful French bistro. It’s fantastic. I love it. Then there’s a place called Commerce, I really love that place too. Then there’s a third place called Pearl Oyster Bar, oh and Prune. I love Prune.
Me: How would you describe your food photography style?
Penny: My style, it’s an organic approach to food. I try and illustrate food as real as it is, and as authentic as it is.
Me: What makes you happiest about working with food?
Penny: What makes me happiest working with food is the people that work with the food. So, it could be the executive chef or the home cook or the family that gathers around the table. The people that are connected to it. That’s the connection… the people that connect us to the subject and what brings people together. That’s what I most like about food.
Me: Do you ever eat what you shoot?
Penny: God, I can’t tell you how many times people ask me that. That’s a loaded question. No and then sometimes yeah. If I’m in Italy and I’m photographing someone’s homemade pesto that they learned from the recipe that their great great grandmother passed down from generation to generation, and I’m photographing it, then the next second they’re like “You got to try it.” Then of course, you don’t say no. So yes and no. If I’m at a restaurant and it’s a high end shoot. Then NO. Not at all. I’m there to work you know. I guess it depends because then there are moments where the chef is like “Oh my God, I really want you to try this.” Then of course. You want to be a good guest in anyone’s kitchen. Whether it’s a professional or in someone’s home.
Me: You’ve inspired so many people with your story-telling photography. What or who is inspiring you?
Penny: I am a pretty big advocate for and a big fan of the master of photography. I always refer back to a lot of photographers… traditional street photographers. Traditional documentary photographers from the turn of the century who I feel really gave definition to a moment and really defined how pictures developed in this country specifically. A lot of my inspiration comes from photographers that have been long gone. Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and some that are still living like William Eggleston. I absolutely adore William Eggleston. Wow, his pictures blow me away. These are the people who spend the majority of and have spent the majority of their life photographing humanity and life in the streets and everyday normal. Not necessarily crossing an ocean to make pictures but walking down the street and photographing everyday life and seeing the uniqueness in that. In the normal, which I think takes patience and instinct and a lot of looking. That’s what I LOVE, that’s where I get a lot of inspiration.
Me: Do you like to cook?
Penny: I love to cook , but I just moved to New York and I’ve been here not even 10 days and I think I’ve made a salad and coffee. I haven’t cooked yet because I’m in the neighborhood where perhaps per capita, some of the best restaurants in the world are here. I love to cook. I grew up in a home filled with great food. I look forward to when I’m settled down enough to cook in my new home.
Me: Being around food all the time, and in the presence of accomplished chefs and food stylists…. What’s the one cooking tip you have picked up along the way?
Penny: Always buy the best olive oil you can find and spend your money on your finishing ingredients. Really good salts, olive oil and buy all your ingredients fresh.
Me: Austin Texas is quite the food and music town. Where do you recommend a person new to the area go eat? Out of curiosity what’s your favorite venue to see a band play?
Penny: OH MY GOD! OKAY. My favorite place to watch music? Without a doubt is Stubbs and Emo’s. Where to go eat? I mean come on, it’s Texas and it’s AWESOME. So you got to do the food they do great and that’s Mexican and Barbecue. The scale on both those types of food are huge. You can go low brow on both or high end on both. The opportunity to eat great Barbecue in Austin are endless. For my money I’m going to Franklin’s Barbecue first and if I want really good tacos I’m going to La Condesa.
Me: I love all your street food photos, especially the ones taken at night. Do you have a particular one you are especially proud of?
Penny: No. Every photograph is an observation. It’s a moment. It’s something I felt. It’s something I saw and wanted to convey. There’s no way there’s a favorite for me. It’s an ongoing conversation.
Me: What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
Penny: Barbecue and chicken fried steak.
Me: Who’s house would you like to be invited over for dinner? It could be anybody.
Penny: Wow. This is such a great question. I wouldn’t want it to be stuffy. I would want it to be someplace where I could make great pictures. I’m always looking for photographs so…. it would have to be a photographers house or an artist’s house. (She takes a minute to think) The first person that comes to my mind is Julia Childs, but that’s so cliche. Who wouldn’t want to have a meal with her? Who wouldn’t want to go to her house for dinner? Without a doubt Julia Childs. If I could bring her back, I would make her portrait. I’d sit on the other end of her lime green counter top kitchen and would quietly make my photos while she cooked.
Me: What dish from your childhood do you crave the most?
Penny: My Mom’s crispy tacos. (Editor’s note: Penny’s Mom is no longer with us, she passed away a while back). I love crispy tacos, when I could find them. But they have to be really good. You don’t want to blow it on something mediocre. If I could find good ones I’m there. It’s something I’m constantly looking for. The best ones are in people’s homes. Restaurants use a massive deep fryer on the tortilla and it’s just not that hand fried tortilla.
Me: Do you have a special project your working on now?
Penny: I’m working on a book right now on Mexican street food. I just traveled to 5 states in Mexico with two very well known Mexican chefs. We traveled for two weeks. We mostly photographed seafood. Amazing.