Have you ever wondered what impact a spoonful of family history might have on one’s path to harnessing AI and food photography? Or how a journey from crafting personal food blogs to navigating the commercial photography realm?
In this captivating episode titled “Tasting the Future with Evi Abeler,” our guest shares riveting stories that trace back to her family’s historical influence on her career. Evi’s journey hasn’t been a straight shot but rather one filled with unexpected turns and unconventional decisions that have led her to where she is today. Embarking upon the world of food photography, she has learned to embrace the unpredictability of the creative process—a sentiment that perhaps resonates with many of us navigating our unique life paths.
Evi shares heartfelt joy by capturing memories in their rawest form and transforming them into timeless visuals. From journeying through a personal food blog to transitioning seamlessly into commercial photography, Evi displays the undeniable value of starting small, forging connections, and seizing opportunities, no matter how minuscule they may seem at first. With her benevolent spirit, Evi has extended her passion for photography into philanthropic endeavors, contributing to various non-profit organizations and creating impactful visuals for a cause.
Ready for a glimpse of the future? Evi offers a compelling perspective on integrating AI into photography—an exciting frontier teetering on the horizon. The art of capturing meals in a click is evolving, and Evi is right at the forefront of this thrilling shift.
And now, we invite you to join us. Gather around our table and lend an ear to Evi’s inspiring journey. Tasting the Future with Evi Abeler is available now for your listening pleasure. Be prepared to leave not only fulfilled but also hungry for more.
Evi Abeler is a New York City-based photographer and director focusing on food + drink, product, and lifestyle. Hailing from a tiny village in northern Germany, Evi brings every aspect of her rural farm-to-table upbringing to her work, from a collaborative, hands-on, no-drama approach to a passion for mindful living. She collaborates with crazed ad agencies, award-winning publishers, and brands who need a creative and down-to-earth photographer. Evi is profoundly grateful whenever she gets to work with mission-driven brands affecting positive change in this world.
Mica: [00:00:00] Welcome to the 29th episode of The Savory Shot. Y'all. 29 episodes, man! If this is your first time joining this Hot Mess Express, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mica and I'm your host with the most. If you've already been here from the beginning, or a couple episodes, then thank you for coming back.
Mica: Welcome to the dark side. Or I guess I should say, Welcome back to the dark side. Yeah, that doesn't sound... Yeah, let's just skip ahead. Before I even start on how amazing today's guest is, I've got to give some love and a shout out to the last guest, Rishon Hanners.
Mica: Y'all, did you listen to that episode? Man, if you [00:01:00] did, give me a holler, hit me up on Insta. Let's talk about it. But if you have not listened to that episode, boo, what are you doing here? Get out, go back, get off, sign off, log off, go listen to that episode. Her advice is real y'all. She did not come to play. She did not. Show up to gloss anything up for you. So, if you are looking for some sass, you gotta go listen to it. She is just an amazing food stylist, and I enjoyed that episode. But y'all, let's talk about today's episode. I know I say this every single time, but, ooh, ooh, ooh, this was my favorite interview. No, really, really, I mean it this time.
Mica: This was my favorite interview. My heart is just bursting with joy, with happiness, because y'all, I [00:02:00] literally had one of the best conversations. So without further ado, today's guest is Evie Abler. Evie comes. All the way from Germany. She got on a plane, went vroom, flew to New York City, and she's been there ever since. Slayin workin as a food photographer.
Mica: We talked about everything. We talked about her comin from Germany, what drew her to New York City. We talked about her mentoring with Focus On Women and why that's so important to her.
Mica: I'm not gonna tell you everything because then, you know, what's the point of you going to listen to the episode if I'm just gonna give you the whole synopsis? So, I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna waste any more of y'all's time. I know you got things to do, places to go. I think I have rolled out the red carpet for long enough. So let's start the show.
Mica: I just want to start off by thanking you. We're finally doing this. I'm so excited. There's been photo shoots. There's been jury duty. There's been me losing my voice. Like we've gone through every catastrophe that you could think of and we are now here and we're doing this and I just want to say thank you so much for sticking it out and for being here on the show [00:04:00] on The Savory Shot.
Evi: Totally. Thank you. Mica. Thank you. I'm really excited
Mica: I just want to dive right in. I've been jonesing for this interview, and I'm like,
Mica: I'm ready, I'm ready, we were talking about earlier before I hit the record button, we were talking about city living, rural living, country living. You're in New York. I'm in Austin. But your childhood, your upbringing was in Northern Germany.
Evi: Yep. Yep. Absolutely rural.
Mica: In your bio, you shared that you credit your love for food and photography from your upbringing. What's a memorable moment that shaped the way you approach your work today?
Evi: Well, my, my grandmother, she made all her food from scratch. So she had a huge garden.
Evi: She grew everything. My grandfather was a avid hunter. So he would bring the deer home and the all kinds of other animals [00:05:00] and he would make everything. So I think just that, that love. That love for food and the stories around food and the passion for food definitely came from them. And my mom, is the family, I mean back then even more, she was the family photographer.
Evi: She treated her film camera as we treat our iPhones now. She would take so many photos. We have albums and albums and albums and she wouldn't just take one photo. She would go like, oh, she, she, she just loved, everywhere she would bring her, bring her camera. So just that combo was very influential.
Mica: So your mom is your, your family historian.
Evi: Yes, absolutely. Mm hmm. Yeah.
Mica: Having so many photos of your family to look back on, like that's such an awesome thing to have.
Mica: I'm really big into genealogy and I've been working on my family tree for gosh since I started in 2020.
Evi: How far have you been able to go back? [00:06:00]
Mica: Whoo. On my dad's side, so I'm mixed with Mexican and black.
Mica: My mom's side, I've actually gone pretty far back to the early 1700s on both her maternal and paternal side. It's actually a lot easier to do genealogy for Mexicans because in Mexico, you have two last names. And it's your father's last name first and then it's your mother's. Searching for family members on my mom's side, it's a lot easier because I know the mother's maiden last name and I have the father's last name.
Mica: So it's a lot easier. With my dad, it's been a lot more difficult. The earliest that I've been able to trace my roots has been 18 Uh, 70. Which is not surprising. Black people were freed from slavery in 1867 and they appeared on the first census of 1870. So [00:07:00] it's not uncommon for African Americans to trace their roots back to 1870.
Mica: And it's really hard after that, like anytime before that. Every so often I'll find a picture of one of my ancestors or like a distant cousin or something.
Mica: And even though they're like my third or fourth cousin, one time removed, two times removed, I could see the similarity, like the features and I'm like, wow, we are all connected. It's a really fascinating thing. Yeah. So I love that your mom did that and took pictures of your family.
Evi: So there's albums and albums. It's not just a little box.
Evi: It is. Albums. And I'm wondering what are we going to do with all these albums because even she is starting to oh my goodness. What are we going to do with all of this to think about this?
Evi: Right now they live in a good place. Let's leave them where they are.
Evi: But I was wondering maybe one day I'll go through find like the top 100 out of the top thousands and just, you know, scan them exactly, [00:08:00] scan them and make an album for my kids. So they have something. What's crazy now is though there was this time period where we would make photo albums, family photo albums.
Evi: But once I think the phones came along or digital photography, and we have just so much. It lives all on the phone. I've made one album for my daughter for her first year, my second daughter already didn't get anything, no albums, all my phone, it's terrible, right? I even had this hope that I could make, once a year I could make an album, just highlight the top images from the year.
Evi: And then at the end of the year. Everybody gets this one album of the year, all the highlights. I've never gotten around to it. So I think we got into this whole new world of photography could be lost. If somebody loses their phone.
Mica: Yeah, there goes the memory of that trip.
Mica: I've noticed with iPhones, it takes you out of the moment because you're just looking at your screen. I recently bought a, it's called a Paper Shoot camera. It acts very much like a disposable [00:09:00] camera and it really is just a novelty toy.
Mica: I personally think it's overpriced, but I do like it. It is really fun. It's a thin camera, probably about an inch or two thick, or maybe three inches, I don't know, I don't know how to measure to save my life. But it has just a viewfinder where you can see, it has four settings, and that's it. And you take the picture and you can't see what you shot until you connect it to your computer.
Evi: Oh, so it's still digital.
Mica: Yeah, it's still a digital camera, but it acts very much like a disposable camera. You have no control over the settings. You just, you press the shutter and then you don't know what you got until you connect it to your phone.
Mica: My husband and I, we went to Galveston for our anniversary. And I took my iPhone and I took my, the Paper Shoot camera. It was one of the funnest experiences, but also very [00:10:00] frustrating. Because that instant gratification that I get with my iPhone or with my camera, where I can look at it and I go, okay.
Mica: Well, I'm gonna retake that that doesn't look good. With my DSLR, especially I find myself like retaking a photo I need to get it perfect and then I'm no longer on vacation I'm a photographer taking a photo but with this Paper Shoot, and I guess that this is where I'm getting my money's worth.
Mica: But with the paper shoot, I shoot the photo and then that's it. I go back to whatever it is that I'm doing. There's no looking through my phone. There's no scrolling. There's no, Oh, your eye was closed here. Let's do it again.
Evi: My husband loves Polaroids. He has always taken a ton of Polaroids and talk about overpriced. By now these things are, I think, two dollars a photo. But we have often taken it to family functions or friend's birthdays and just taking Polaroids. And when we gifted them at the end of the evening, like here, pick your favorite and keep them.
Evi: Has been such a hit because nobody gets, you, we don't just don't have that anymore. That you get it, something printed out as a gift. [00:11:00] Do you know, remember the Holga cameras, these kind of very plastic medium format. I used to do that a lot. When I was studying photography, when I was a student, or even before that, I just, I loved the Holga.
Evi: Not only did you not know what you got, you also didn't know because of the light leaks and all these other problems. And I changed the front, the lens, into a pinhole for some of the photos. You would really not know what you get. Until you got the the film back. It was so special.
Mica: Oh, man.
Mica: That reminds me of... When I, I went to Los Angeles when I was 18, that was the first time I traveled outside of Texas. I had a film camera, my sister in law, she let me borrow it.
Evi: You talked about this on the podcast, right? That you slowly. Yeah. Yeah.
Mica: So I still have one more roll left to go. Some of the photos are just, there's light leaks, it's blurry, like I took a selfie, and everything behind me is in focus [00:12:00] and there was a, a sequence of photos where I was trying to get the Hollywood sign, but the car that I was in, it was moving too fast, and I asked my chaperones, Stop the car! I want to take a picture of the Hollywood sign! And then they stopped the car, and we couldn't see the Hollywood sign.
Mica: So the only pictures that I have of this Hollywood sign, it's like, Half an H and an O L. And then like a E D. And then grass, then like mountain. Maybe one day I'll go back and get an actual photo of Hollywood. But those are like, I don't know, like, those are memories that I will take with me and carry with me.
Mica: So you moved to New York in the 90s. Who was Evie back then?
Evi: Who was I back then? I was an art student. I studied photography in Germany and I came in as an exchange student to New [00:13:00] York. It's very common in Germany that you go abroad for a semester or a year and, uh, I wanted to go to an English speaking country because I wanted to study the subject more than I wanted to study the language.
Evi: So, it could have been England, and England is so close, it's, it's a 20 minute flight. It wasn't really the adventure, and then the other program was in Australia, and that seemed a bit far, that seemed a bit wild, and then New York. The few things I knew about New York was that it, it has a thriving art scene, and many times when we would study an artwork in school.
Evi: The picture in the art book underneath it would say it's in the MoMA in New York. It's in the Met in New York. It's this in New York. I just knew that there was so much art here. So many living artists that I love would live here. And I thought, okay, that's going to be the place. You can either call it naive or very, very open. Of live, you know, coming from the rural Germany to, to such a, humongous [00:14:00] urban mega city definitely was exhilarating. It was scary. It was exciting. It was everything at once. It was quite something, but I just took it all in.
Evi: I think I grew up so safe in a way that I didn't feel scared. I walked around day and night, explored every corner of New York. I couldn't even imagine anything could happen. I just walked around. I met people. I went to art galleries and openings. I took advantage of New York for sure and all, all, all of the art scenes. It was just very free. Very free.
Mica: Oh, I love that. I love that. Was photography something that you were already doing when you came to New York?
Evi: Yeah. In Germany I was studying also fine art, so, printmaking, sculpture, studio art and photography. I founded my, high school's photo club. When I got to New York, to CUNY, City University of New York, [00:15:00] the program that I was in, I went into this double major situation where it was, I think it was called electronic design, multimedia, photography, and Do do do do do do do do do seven other things. Photography was the bulk of it.
Evi: And then I also did a ton of graphic design, print making, a little bit of sculpture. I only needed a few more credits and I could have gotten my, American Bachelor's degree. So I said, okay, let me just stay another semester. I'll just get those and have a Bachelor's.
Evi: That's great. Because at that time, the programs and the degrees you get in Europe were very different still. The diplomas are very different. So I thought, oh, let me just get that, take it. And then when I got my Bachelor's, they gave me a scholarship to stay on and get my Master's in Fine Art with Photography. Printmaking was my concentration.
Evi: So I thought, Oh, let's do that too. This is great. And I just love I could walk to the Met. I could walk to the MoMA. I could go to Chelsea, to all the art galleries. I could go to the tiny little local neighborhood galleries.
Mica: It's just knowing [00:16:00] that you could walk to wherever you needed to see.
Mica: It's one thing to see a painting on a book, but it's another to be standing in its presence and being like, wow.
Evi: And also, even at a public university in New York, or maybe especially at a public university in New York, like CUNY, all your art teachers are mega top notch.
Evi: I mean, they're just best of the best because they're here. They live here. They can have a gig there. So, I... I had some fabulous, fantastic teachers that I would have probably not gotten anywhere else.
Mica: I've only been to New York once and it was not by choice. I got stuck in a winter storm trying to get back to Austin.
Mica: We went to Boston and we got caught in some weird vortex storm and our flight was canceled and rescheduled and then we had a layover in New York. I'd love to give New York another chance because I now have more friends there.
Mica: [00:17:00] And I tell them my story and they're like, Oh, boo. This. No, we, we, we got to redo this because New York is such a great city. You've got to give it another try and I was like, I want to. So you started in Fine Art with the Masters, when did that transition to commercial photography? Like doing this for a living and freelancing.
Evi: Well, about three months, six months before I graduated, I thought, okay, time to look for a job. My family wasn't able to support me. I always worked on the weekends when I was in grad school and I fortunately got out without any debt because I worked so much.
Evi: But I needed a job because that was where the money comes from. And I did a hot second of assisting photographers, but it was just, it was so unreliable, it was so hard to get in as somebody who's completely new, has no connection and is a woman. There were just no jobs for me, and I couldn't, or I couldn't find them either, or it was, yeah, [00:18:00] next week, maybe on Tuesday, I have a job and I can pay you 150.
Evi: And it just didn't add up. Then I looked around and I was thinking, how can I apply my skills? So the photo skills, the design skills in a job that's not freelancy, and I wasn't ready to go out on my own at all. So I found a job at a museum to be the museum's photographer. So I was still around artworks.
Evi: I would photograph the artwork. I would photograph the annual fundraising gala. I would photograph all the, the headshots for the website. I would photograph the exhibitions. Go somewhere else and photograph the collection that was being acquired. I did a ton of the design and back then in 2005, if you were the photographer, you also were the graphic designer, and you were also the web designer.
Mica: You were the wearer of all the hats.
Evi: Of all the hats. So I did it all, and it was such a joy. I think those departments have, It's been enlarged now and everybody has their own little niche and you need [00:19:00] it now.
Evi: But back then it was Dreamweaver and, um, I don't know, Photoshop. Was that Photoshop six and a half? I don't know. But it was, um.
Mica: You said Dreamweaver.
Evi: A long time ago or.
Evi: The first website I actually did an HTML, I think. Yes, I did program that. So I did that all and I worked there for about five years.
Evi: I was in house. And I learned everything and I got the job, this is amazing. So this was the transition from film to digital. And my university has, wasn't, we did have a digital or a couple of digital cameras, but the world had already moved on faster than the program had. So when I left school, it was all, it was just digital was there.
Evi: I kind of was in a weird transition. And the person who left the job was an older gentleman who was a true film photographer and he decided to retire, he didn't want to learn all this. So when they looked for somebody, they wanted somebody that's straight out of [00:20:00] school, knew what's going on, was on the cutting edge of technology, and I knew so little.
Evi: I knew so little. So I went to B& H in Adorama and I asked all the questions, I got all the gear, because also the museum didn't have any digital gear. So they asked me to get it all. And that's what I mean by being a little naive or maybe being just very open and young. I was like, sure, I can make that happen.
Evi: I can, I can digitize everything. No problem. I'll find out. I just went to B&H, asked all the questions, got all the gear they recommended. And then I started the digital revolution at the museum with very little knowledge, but more than the other person. So I fit into that, where the path of digital and film just intersected. Yeah.
Mica: You were picking up what they were putting down, like they wanted to live in the future and you were already halfway there.
Evi: One step, one, one tiny step ahead and maybe, and I was just open enough to not find it a problem, like it wasn't difficult for me to adjust and change.
Mica: I love hearing stories like that, where [00:21:00] it's like, yeah, I'll figure it out. I may not know it now, but it's like not letting them see you sweat. I, I wouldn't even call it naive, I would call it open minded. If we were so cautious to not try something out because we've never done it before or whatever, then we wouldn't get any of that.
Mica: What was the hardest transition for you when it came to digital or was there any hard transition? Learning curves.
Evi: Learning curves. I think you can still do it now. You can set the camera to shoot without a card. When you're used to film, you don't look at the back of the camera.
Evi: You're used to just shooting through the viewfinder. Shoot, shoot, You're not looking in the back. So with this digital camera, I was shooting this event and somehow the setting was set on shoot without a card. There was no card in the thing. And it would blink in the back. I would shoot through, I'd look through, it would blink in the back.
Evi: So the image comes up for a second or a millisecond and then it goes away. But I never went to check because we weren't in [00:22:00] the mode of chimping then. I was still so used to film photography that I never wanted to go back or look back at the photos. I was shooting, shooting, shooting. So this whole event and I didn't get a single photo.
Evi: Oh, that was terrible. So that was a steep learning curve. So now one of the must five things that I always check when I'm, because I've made all these mistakes is A, if I'm shooting not tethered, if I'm shooting just the card, is the camera actually recording to the card?
Evi: Is it on, is it on raw, not on JPEG? Because also then the raws were already tiny, but the JPEGs were one megabyte, you couldn't do anything with them. So there are a couple of, of things that I make sure that are, that I've learned.
Evi: That I will hopefully knock on wood real fast and never mess up again. And these are very, very basic mistakes, but they do happen. And that was just those silly mistakes.
Mica: [00:23:00] Absolutely. Absolutely. That awful feeling when you look at the back of your camera and you're like, oh my God.
Mica: Oh my god, and you're like, please, is there a time machine? Can I go back? Can redo this? Do you still dabble in, in film?
Evi: Besides Polaroid, not at all, not at all. I still have all my Holga's, Holga's, I still have all my Pin Hua, Pin Uol boxes. As an art project, I, I'd love to do it again at some point, mm hmm, but otherwise no.
Mica: Do you shoot primarily food these days?
Evi: Yeah. It's almost all food. It's very food centered. It could be lifestyle around food or food packaging or motion and stills on, on food commercial sets, but it's very food.
Evi: It's a little bit of other product like home products or cosmetic products, but mostly food is in the heart of my work.
Mica: What drew you to food?
Evi: The, the museum had, so I, everything was great, right? [00:24:00] The portraits I took, the architectural photography, photographs of the artwork and all that was great.
Evi: It also had a restaurant. One of those Michelin famous star chefs the executive chef and I was asked to photograph the menu and the photos I took were horrible because I took them in the restaurant under these spot lights that are orange. You take a photo and you see the shadow of the camera.
Evi: The food had been sitting there for half an hour because the chef had made it three hours earlier. Those photos were awful and I just couldn't figure out, I mean, I understood, okay, so the lighting I see, it's not on the right spot, so I have to block out that light and put a different light.
Evi: I get it. But the food, I just could not understand how this works. I asked a couple of my photographer friends who I knew was, were shooting food. It's like, how do you, how do you do this? How do you get that? And then they said, Oh, you need a food stylist. I was like, food stylist, what? They said, yeah, it's like when, you know, when you show, when you shoot a [00:25:00] person, you usually have them or somebody else do the hair and makeup, put an outfit on.
Evi: Same with food. Even if it's restaurant or maybe especially if it's restaurant food, you just have to pimp it up a little bit, or you have to know what to do. And you cannot photograph the salad an hour after it has been plated. So that just really intrigued me and I had to spend an extra effort to get it right and that just got me a little like what is this and I just felt so disappointed in myself that something that I love so much. I couldn't take a good photo of. So I needed to dive in there and solve that. Yeah, I have a dear dear friend who is a pastry chef and this was the time of food blogging when food blogging just started and Food blogging was a thing.
Evi: So we started a blog together called Whip and Click. So she was whipping and I was clicking.
Mica: That is the best blog name ever. Whip and Click.
Evi: That's how I started my journey into food [00:26:00] photography for real. Because that's how I learned. I had the time, we would meet up, we would do seasonal desserts. You know, strawberry rhubarbs, anything that's in season in the Northeast.
Evi: She would create the recipes, we would write nice posts about it, I would photograph, yeah, and, and, and that's how I learned.
Mica: Do you still work on this blog?
Evi: We have retired it.
Evi: So we did it for, I want to say four or five years, we even got an award from Food and Wine. It was really a fantastic blog, very, very wonderful blog. I transitioned out of the full time job into, I first agreed with them to do part time because I still wasn't, I was getting some jobs on the side, but not enough to fully support that.
Evi: So for a while I did part time work and then I did contract work with them. And during that time, I got more of my own jobs and more of my own jobs and more of my own jobs. And at some point, it became too much. And also, my family grew, her family grew, so we just decided, okay, I think it's, we've done this, we loved it, [00:27:00] we're going to retire it.
Mica: And you ended it on, on your terms. Yeah, I had a food blog with my co workers, and friend, Charlotte. I was just getting into photography, so I was just excited to like photograph anything and everything. And she's like, Hey, you got a camera and I got some recipes. Let's start a food blog.
Mica: And we did. And it was such a cool experience because that was my playground where I got to get better practice. Then by the time I transitioned into commercial food photography, I had all these years of knowledge and wealth and everything like that. So I love to meet other fellow photographers who also blossomed via blogs, via food blogs.
Evi: What was the name of your food blog?
Mica: Our food blog was called Let's Taco Bout It, but it had no tacos in it.
Mica: [00:28:00] Had no tacos in it. When we first started it, we were just like, let's just put up some random shit, you know, we don't know what we're doing. And then we decided, we need to go back to the drawing board and come up with an idea that both of us are passionate about. We both love to read and that's actually how our friendship blossomed is our love of books and literature. So we came up with the idea of creating a, a full meal for a book character.
Mica: So every month we featured a different book. It was so much fun.
Mica: So what do you remember about your first paid food shoot? What was that like?
Evi: Coming out of the museum world, I want to say, because, you know, I was paid for the work. I did get a salary, but the first one out, and I'm not a thousand percent sure if this was the first one, but the one that comes to mind, when I started building my, my [00:29:00] business.
Evi: I had no clients, I had no connections, so the first thing I did is, I had followed a local blog for a long time and the blogger there would always go to restaurants and feature the new restaurant, feature this, feature that. And the photography they took wasn't, wasn't good.
Evi: It wasn't, it was just, you know, blog, very basic in a way, good enough, good enough. So I contacted the blog and I said, Hey, how about you send me to these restaurants and these new businesses and I give you the photos. That way, you have great photos for the blog and I have a connection. Maybe I can make them introduce myself and maybe they buy some photos from me afterwards.
Evi: So the first place I photographed in the neighborhood was a, it's an Italian restaurant and I was just so thrilled and so amazed. I took a friend along who helped me stop the lighting and I knew what I was doing photographically but this whole going out on your own finding jobs that all was new to me.
Evi: I spent all afternoon there. We drank the wine. We tried all the food all the stuff [00:30:00] that is so almost cliche But I mean, I just had the best time doing this. And then the owner, of course, they loved the work. So they bought some of the photos. This is kind of not something I would recommend to anybody now doing spec work.
Evi: But I just I loved it a lot. And then she hired me the couple of next years. She hired me back to photograph the restaurant every season. So that was lovely. So that was my first local restaurants, local bakeries. Very low budget, but big hearts. I always would go home with a week's worth of food. It was great.
Evi: Financially was okay because I still had that part time job at the museum. So even though they paid very little and they often paid in food or gift certificates, it was fabulous education and it was working for me. And from there, it branched out then.
Evi: A restaurant had been featured in a magazine. They still remembered the magazine editor, the magazine needed new [00:31:00] photos. So then they got me. Then the classic from local businesses to local editorial work to national editorial work. Then you start working with some brands. Very, very classic, uh, food journey.
Mica: Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started and finding another establishment that is where you're at with you. I always say that there's a photographer for every budget level. There's nothing wrong with... making that first connection with that first mom and pop, and that's kind of the best time.
Evi: What's the best? It's the best. You know what, when the pandemic started, all my jobs, of course, every, like everybody else, every my jobs got canceled. I couldn't do anything. I felt terrible. I was looking for something to do. So I started volunteering at a local nonprofit. They support, promote local Chinese, middle small businesses.
Evi: I went to these small businesses during the pandemic just helping them to market. I took photos of whatever they were selling at the doorstep or [00:32:00] on the stoop. Nobody could go in or out, but still businesses could have little takeout cocktails or, you know, all kinds of things.
Evi: Since then I've volunteered for them and I must have now photographed over a hundred or so tiny small businesses and truly mom and pop stores that would never even have a photo shoot. I mean, they just wouldn't. These are so heartwarming. They appreciate it so much.
Evi: They're so friendly. They love what they do. They love sharing the food with you. I feel very, very blessed that I've made the connection to the nonprofit and that I get to, to do that. And that I also don't have to charge for it. It's a gift.
Mica: What are their reactions when they see their dish for the first time and like a beautifully lit situation?
Evi: The smartphone and social media photography has come a long way. So I don't blow them out of the water. You know, I mean, their guests have totally taken great photos up there. So it's not the first time that they see a photo of their work, but, I think just taking time and [00:33:00] talking and being connected, they do, they are all excited, as excited as I am about, about what we do.
Mica: One thing I noticed during the beginnings of the pandemic is just how much the food photography community and the restaurant community really stuck together. I felt that kinship between food photographers and restaurants like leaning on each other. What's the name of the organization that you volunteered for?
Evi: It's Uptown Grand Central.
Evi: It's right in the heart of Harlem, in New York City, in Manhattan. And they are doing small business support, community events, farmer's market, all those kind of things. Yeah. Fabulous. Wonderful organization.
Mica: I have a random question. One art lover to another, who is your favorite artist
Mica: or maybe, what is your favorite decade of art?
Evi: Oh, you are good with your questions. Favorite [00:34:00] decade of art and favorite artist. Okay, favorite artist. So there is a Mexican photographer. Her name is Garciela Ertubin. Ertubine? I'm not exactly sure how to say her name. I wonder what her decade...
Evi: I want, I want to say that she worked... There must be nine in the nine, 19, 20, 30, 40 or so. Ooh, I might get it all wrong, but beautiful black and white photography. She studied a lot of nature and birds and there's so many black and white gorgeous, photos of blurry birds in the sky.
Evi: And, and he gave me a photo with blurry birds in the sky. And I just love that. Garciela Ertubin, she definitely is one of my favorites. And then there's a Japanese photographer, Masao Yamamoto, and he does these tiny little prints of moments. So it's a child hopping in a pool, all black and white, a lot of sepia.
Evi: He's contemporary. He lives and works right now. But what he does is he uses all these [00:35:00] little prints and installs them in. I think you can make a story out of them, but I don't know if not necessarily very clear linear storytelling, but let's say he puts 10, 20 photos, these tiny photos together in a little collage situation.
Evi: Oh, and it's all these poetic, lovely little moments. All that kind of work I love. Favorite decade. Oh, that's hard. That is hard. That's really hard. I do not know. There's so many special things about each decade that I can't pinpoint one that I love the most.
Mica: That's like trying to pick your favorite song. How has your background in art influenced or impact how you approach food photography?
Evi: Studying art for that long and studying all these masters of art and all this super high quality work has definitely made me a bit snooty and judgy. And also a little self deprecating because I am not [00:36:00] Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon.
Evi: So you always be down a little bit on yourself. But what I truly enjoy is I know that if I'm in these talks with art directors or with agencies, many of these people have studied also fine art.
Evi: So when they throw out, oh, let's do this in the style of, now, of course, I can't think of anybody, right? But let's do this like a Richard Avedon type photograph, a portrait. I know what they're talking about. They're just speaking the same language. Knowing where the inspiration comes from, knowing about color theory and composition and all that has helped a ton for sure.
Mica: How has your approach and style evolved over the years from when you first started to where you are now?
Evi: When I was in art school, I've obviously, we're all influenced. We all have seen things. We were inspired by something we take from here and from there and we make our own thing.
Evi: But I felt that the art [00:37:00] that I was making in art school, or even when I was doing art on the side while I was having my full time job, I felt that it was more my voice in a way. Then at the museum, it was all very technical and it had to look uniform. It wasn't very artsy what I was doing. It was technical because you take the photo of the statue and the statue has to be sharp in the background.
Evi: It's to be black so you can blah, blah, blah and so on. Then when I started entering the commercial world, it was still very much Martha Stewart. Shallow depth of field, very light and bright daylight. So you would have this gorgeous three layer cake in the front with some kind of chipped wood in the background that you could barely see, very out of focus.
Evi: Dreamy in a way I would describe this, soft colors, pastels. I loved it. It was so simple and then it evolved over time, trends changed, and if you're in the commercial world, you change with it. So [00:38:00] colors got poppier, focus got deeper, shadows got harsher, more light play came in. My style over time has changed with commercial style and what's wanted in the industry.
Mica: I wanted to touch on your LinkedIn profile. You also did volunteer work as a mentor for Focus On Women. I love that, that you are doing mentorship and that's just something awesome, especially for women photographers that is so desperately needed.
Mica: Why do you think it's important to mentor other photographers, specifically women, how does this enrich your work as a commercial photographer?
Evi: I want to give back, because I've learned so much from my colleagues, from my mentors, going through school, so I want to give back. I love doing it because I think whether you've gone through art school or you've come through this point in your [00:39:00] life, your career through self taught or however you got into it.
Evi: It's the business side is not taught in school. There are now more and more classes online that you can take. But I think when I started mentoring, there was very, very, very little. It was just not out there. I don't want to call it secretive. It was just hard to get, come by, get by.
Evi: There were some books out but, um, very little. There's so much knowledge and there is knowledge that's shared in a video and in a book, but to completely be open, I think there needs to be some kind of trust.
Evi: So these one on one mentorships there's a lot of trust in that relationship where I can speak from experiences that I had that I might not want to put out into the bigger world. Uh, so the, the one on one just went so much deeper. I think in the food world, photography is more open towards women.
Evi: But, still there's a lot we have to, hoops, extra hoops, extra things we have to get through. I have to say all the women that I worked with, they were also very [00:40:00] open, very receptive, happy to share their experiences. It was a lovely, warm connection that I had with them. If the new people are not aware of what is the language that's spoken. What's the rate you should ask for? What support do you need? All these things thats. Um, they need to know that otherwise they'll underbid or shoot themselves in the foot and all these kinds of things.
Mica: They'll get themselves in a situation where they maybe bit off more than they could chew.
Evi: That joy that you have in the very beginning, I just, that sparkle, it just, it's, it's so inspiring to me too, to hear what they're experiencing, what's happening. It's fabulous. Younger generations just also see the business so differently and it's just lovely to get a fresh of breath air.
Mica: I love that you are willing to pass the baton to the next [00:41:00] generation of photographers. That's what keeps this industry alive is passing on that information.
Evi: If I may just throw this in, because if you are a newer photographer, or a person new to the food world or whatever photography world you're in, having three or four photographers that you can reach out to, because everybody has their own experience, their own ideas, but just to get a little bit of a flavor of what's going on, it's so helpful. I have a little bit of a brain trust with a handful of photographers that if I have a question now that are at the same level where I'm or even higher, amazing, wonderful colleagues that I can share my ideas and concerns with. It's so important because everybody has it's such a unique approach that you're like, Oh my God, I never thought of that. Really? And then from another person you hear something completely different and it's just fascinating.
Mica: Is there a mentee that you are, that stands out the most to you? [00:42:00]
Evi: Mmm, there is, there's one mentee who absolutely took off. She just, oh my goodness. Has a stunning website. Stunning work. Found an agent. I mean, just so cool, so cool. I'm very proud. I'm very proud. She's fabulous. She would have done that with or without me.
Evi: She was on that, on that track, but I'm like, Whoa, that's great. If you've done it for a while, at some point people pass you by or bid on the same job.
Evi: So then you can like, ooh, let's chat. Now it's time for you to mentor me.
Mica: One of my professors, told me about a photographer that he assisted for several years. They were kind of in the same industry, he noticed that my professor is getting better and better and better until finally he was like, um. You're now my competition, so [00:43:00] you are fired, and you need to get out. You need to go out on your own. And Frank was like, Well, shit, I, I don't know if I should be happy for the compliment or sad that I am now without a job. That he's like, yeah, you're, you're good enough.
Mica: Um, this is good work.
Evi: Yeah. Out the coop now. Do your thing. Yeah.
Mica: Time to get out. I love that. I love that. I want to finish today's interview by talking about AI. We talked a little bit about it before we started recording. Nearly every photographer that I've spoken with about AI, their immediate reaction is negative.
Mica: Like they want nothing to do with it. And you're the first photographer who shared the same excitement that I have. So I'm curious to hear about what. What excites you the most about this and why should other [00:44:00] photographers be excited too?
Evi: I want to put in one little caveat. I'm just looking at the positive sides of AI right now I know there is big concern all kinds of troubling things that can happen, but I decided to to look at the positive side for me. How I started this whole journey from coming from chemical photography to, to pixel photography, from darkroom to Photoshop.
Evi: I feel like this AI is another huge crossroads. It's much bigger than just going from chemical to pixel or even going from paint to chemical to pixel if, if we have our roots in painting in a way, depicting the world. It's so huge. I find it fascinating because the one thing that I don't like a lot is, sitting on the computer and retouching.
Evi: Now there are some tools in AI that Adobe is implementing, these content aware fillers already there, but there are these way more advanced versions of that where you can, you have a street with seven [00:45:00] cars, you don't like the cars, you paintbrush over them, clumsily and the cars are gone.
Evi: I mean, such a one believable effects that can be happening. If you're a wedding photographer, also very useful, I think, where you can change people's expressions, and you can give them an actual smile, an actual laugh. And I know this is kind of weird, and I don't know if it's ethical or not to change the expression of a person, but if you had clicked a millisecond earlier, you would have caught it.
Evi: I don't know. I'm not going into the moral, ethical, and all these kind of concerns. I'm just, in that technology, there's so much you can use. We are just at the beginning. We are in, in 1990, Photoshop One, where there were no layers.
Evi: We are in the very beginning of this, and it's already so powerful. When I play in, in, in Midjourney, which is the tool I like the most, I have started, just started Firefly, Adobe Firefly, but Midjourney so far has been my favorite. I feed it an image of mine. I ask it to describe it.
Evi: So you can do the slash describe. [00:46:00] And then it gives you back the words. I feed the words into ChatGPT and say, hey, make this a more commercial leave valuable description of a prompt I can use in Midjourney. Then it throws out ten prompts and then I put those prompts back in Midjourney. Then I take that photo and I put it in Photoshop and manipulate it further.
Evi: There's just, there's so much play. I had an alternative, photo processes class in college. It was all, it was the cyanotypes, it was the, the Van Dyck printing, the wet, collodion wet plates and all that. I know this is all on computer, not hands on, but I've feel that same way you kind of don't know what you're getting it's a bit of a surprise what the machine will spit out for you or what the chemicals will spit out for you. I find it fascinating, especially the power of retouching. I know there is so much more to it and so many more concerns, but I think the possibilities are just also quite, quite [00:47:00] impressive. I listened to a, um, a keynote by Seth Godin at Ad World and he did say, it's not AI that's taking your job.
Evi: It's the people who know how to use AI that'll take your job. As creators, I think it gives us so much to explore but if you close your eyes and your ears, ooh, I want you to open them and just dabble around.
Mica: I totally and completely agree with you is that this is very much the beginning, the forefront and I'm sure when Photoshop first came out that there were so many conversations about the ethics behind it. I very much agree with, with Seth Godin. It is not AI that's going to replace you.
Mica: It's going to be the person who was open minded and curious enough to learn about open AI. They found a way. To make this work for their business. Like you, I'm looking at the positives right now and I'm just exploring and seeing what I could do with it. When you [00:48:00] first started dabbling in AI, what was the first thing that popped in your mind?
Evi: Have you seen the film Her? It is this AI film, it came out, oh, I want to say, I don't know, more than 5, or 10 years ago, maybe. It's a movie with, um, the guy who plays the Joker.
Mica: Oh, Joaquin Phoenix.
Evi: Exactly, and the voice of Her, Samantha, is, famous actress, super sexy voice. She's also the spider in all these, Marvel movies. Oh, my goodness. I can't remember her name.
Mica: Is it Scarlett Johansson?
Evi: Yes, exactly. Exactly. You got it.
Evi: So she's kind of the artificially intelligent Siri. And he falls in love with her and they have a love relationship. Somewhere in the beginning, she helps him with his work. So she's this voice. She's Siri, basically, the computer. So he says, Oh, you know, could you edit these letters for me?
Evi: And she goes, Yeah. And then she, she, he, she says, Oh, you know, I see, let me clean up [00:49:00] your computer. I see you have 5, 707, 000 emails. Shall I sort them for you? And then he goes, yeah, please. You have to watch that movie. It is so interesting how this was done before all of this, so many years. It's before now and it's so true right now. I love using ChatGPT for editing my writing, for getting ideas, for sorting things.
Evi: The other day I had a ton of information and I needed a spreadsheet. I plopped it into chap2pt and said, please make a spreadsheet out of this with these categories. Boop, boop, boop, boop, boop, boop, boop, boop. All done. It would have taken me a week.
Evi: Again, so many problems with it, but for the way I'm using it.
Mica: We don't know what problems we're going to have with it until we approach it and then like all things we figure out a next step. I use ChatGPT for meal planning. We call it a Chef GPT. And the first time I did it, my husband was not on board. He was like, wait a minute, [00:50:00] let me get this straight. You're going to make a recipe made from an AI? I go, yes. He goes, Oh, this is going to taste disgusting. He's like, come on, Mica.. He's like, please don't do this.
Mica: And it made a, gave us a recipe for orange glazed chicken. And it was the bombest thing ever. Now, he's like, what did Chef ChatGPT make for us?
Evi: I love that you call it Chef GPT. That is, that is such a, you have to trademark that name.
Mica: What would you say to a photographer who is hesitant to explore AI and ChatGPT?
Evi: Just be open. You probably will find a hard time using the mid journey or the firefly and house is all working and it's strange, but just try, breathe, be open and play with it and read about it.
Evi: This wave is coming, it's gonna be so fast, so huge that we have to find [00:51:00] our way in it somehow, I don't know what the answer is, I don't know exactly where that is for myself either, but um, you just have to be open minded and open hearted about it.
Mica: I want to close out today's interview, with one last question. What do you hope the listeners gain from today's episode?
Evi: Oy, oy, oy, oy, oy, oy. But I, I hope they, um.
Evi: What did they gain from it? I hope that if they were worried about AI, that there is some bright positivity in there as well and embrace it. I hope they were able to laugh with us a couple of times and didn't just shake their heads at us.
Evi: Like, what is it? Ladies babbling along. I hope they, uh, they found some joy, some, some, uh, some nuggets they can take.
Mica: Well, I think they can. I know I did. Where can the listeners find you and support you?
Evi: The easiest way of course is Instagram. It's my name that has a lot [00:52:00] of vowels in it, so I'll spell it. It's E V I. E V I A B E L E R, and then my website is also E V I A B E L E R dot com, and from there you will find everything. You find my, my work, my agent, all the things I'm up to.
Mica: Thank you so, so, so much for, for being on the show.
Evi: It was lovely. We have to make this weekly. We have to make this a weekly session just between us.
Mica: Oh my gosh. Yes. It's like, what did you discover on a, on a ChatGPT and be like, well, I made this recipe.