Creative roadblocks. Every food photographer and creative in the world has grappled with this at some point in their career. And when it happens, it’s just the absolute worst feeling. It feels hopeless, heavy, and, dare I say, neverending. How often do you find yourself grappling with creative blocks? In this episode, Mica sits down with the gifted food photographer, Simi Jois. We discuss Simi’s definition of culinary optics and what it means to her. Additionally, food and art centered Simi’s upbringing, with her mom being a painter and her father being a scientist. Growing up, Simi’s art-loving household talked every day about colors, textures, and art. She talks about how it sowed the seeds for her creative career as a food photographer. Also, Simi drops pearls of wisdom for budding photographers who are struggling with creative blocks and ways you can navigate through blocks. This episode is a colorful, raw, vulnerable conversation that explores how to navigate through creative roadblocks, prioritize your self-care as an artist, and knowing when to walk away from something that no longer serves you.
In the grand tapestry of life, sometimes, it takes a few unexpected turns to find one’s true calling. Simi Jois, a marketing and branding professional with academic training, embarked on such a journey and, in the process, discovered her profound passion for culinary photography.
It’s a tale of transformation, where the allure of light, art, and the essence of flavors converged into a brilliant career. Born and raised in an art-emphasized household, Simi’s formative years were bathed in the subtle hues of creativity. It was an upbringing that subconsciously trained her mind to engage with the world in a unique way – one that embraced color, texture, light, shadow, and composition as the tools of expression. However, little did she know that this foundation would lay the groundwork for a remarkable journey into the world of culinary photography.
The fascination with light has always been Simi’s guiding star. Moreover, she’s entranced by the interplay of light and its transformative effect on the mundane. The way sunlight weaves through a dense forest or the soft caress of light on a simple bowl placed on a dark wooden table ignites her artistic sensibilities. It’s this innate appreciation for the visual impact of light that sets her work apart. However, Simi’s story doesn’t just stop at the mastery of light; it’s about translating her love for culinary arts into a visual feast. For her, photography isn’t just about capturing images; it’s about painting with ingredients, using the lens as her brush, and the world as her canvas. Moreover, her lens breathes life into dishes, telling stories through the play of light and bold strokes of color.
Mica: [00:00:00] Welcome to the, what is this, the 36th episode? Wait, let me, let me check before, let me check before I, uh, say that.
Ah! I was like two episodes ahead. Let's try that again.
Welcome to the 35th episode of The Savory Shot. Guys, y'all, I can't believe we're in the 35th episode. I know I say this every intro about how shocked I am, but I really am shocked. Amazing. 35 episodes. If this is your 35th time joining me, or your first time joining me, welcome to the show. [00:01:00] Welcome to The Savory Shot.
Y'all know who I be. My name is Mica McCook. I'm a food photographer based in Austin, Texas. I want to start the show off with... My gratitude. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you for your support. If this is your first time joining us, thank you for the chance. I hope you stick around, because we besties now.
We BFFs. And if this is your 35th time joining me, thank you for sticking around. This show would not be here without you, the listeners. Head over to Apple Podcasts and give me a five star review.
Only five star reviews. I don't want no twos or threes. Fives. Five, five, fives. Y'all. I am so excited about this episode. You are in for a treat.[00:02:00]
Have you ever met someone, and right off the bat, the energy is just electric? You skip all the small talk and you just dive deep into the meat and potatoes of a conversation. That is what today's interview was like.
Without further ado, I introduce to you Simi Joyce. Y'all, Simi Jois is a food photographer based in Chicago. Chicago, Illinois. 6 0 6 5 2. Does anyone remember that commercial with Scruff McGruff? Scruff, McGruff, Chicago, Illinois. 6 0 6 5 2. Yeah, that's what I think. Whenever I think of Simi Jois, I think of Scruff McGruff, but she is based out of Chicago and [00:03:00] she's just a beautiful human being. I'm so happy that she is here today. This conversation was one of the most inspirational, motivational, all the ationals that I've ever experienced.
Today's episode is just colorful. I think that's the only way to describe it. It's just colorful. The way that Simi talks about art, the way she talks about self care and prioritizing self care, what to do when you find yourself in this situation creative drag this rutt. Y'all. If this doesn't inspire you or motivate you to grab that camera and start shooting away like a paparazzi, then I don't know what will.
So [00:04:00] I don't want to waste your time because I know you got things to do, places to go, people to see, and I want to make every second count because you could have been anywhere.
You could have been doing anything, but you're here with me and that means a lot. So grab some coffee, some tea, if you prefer. Vodka, wherever you're at, it could be five o'clock somewhere, grab your martini, whatever you got to do, center yourself and get ready. Let's start the show.
Mica: I want to start off by thanking you so much for being on the show. I am so excited about the conversation that we're about to have. We've been chatting it up for, good 20 minutes and I'm like, Oh, I already know this is going to be a good time.
So thank you so much for being on the show.
Simi: Thanks, Mica. I'm equally excited and I've been looking forward to this and I'm like, okay, is it three o'clock yet? Is it three o'clock yet? I don't want to miss this. So I'm being equally excited to have this conversation. I think meeting like minded people and talking about what we love, I think it's the best thing.
And sometimes we make a friendship that lasts. a lifetime. And last few years, that's what has happened with me. I made some friends online, which I have never met. We are so [00:06:00] close. And it's amazing that we've never met.
So I'm looking forward to this.
Mica: We've met now and. It's such a small world. I interviewed food stylist Rishon Hanners in Birmingham, Alabama, recently. It's so funny how everything comes in full circle. So I recently worked with a prop stylist named Audrey Davis and while we were discussing the project, she mentioned that she worked in Birmingham, Alabama for a little while. I mentioned Rishon and I was like "Hey, do you know her?"
And she's like, "Yeah, actually I do. We're really great friends."
And then after the shoot Audrey shared a behind the scenes photo and another mutual friend, his name is Yuhsing, we are in a mentorship program together. He commented that he knew Audrey, and he's like, "Hey, tell Audrey I said hi."
And I mentioned it to Audrey, and she was like, "Oh yeah, I do know [00:07:00] Yuhsing. He's a mutual friend of my friend Mel," and so we met, and he's in New York. It just got me thinking, how small is this creative world that even though we're all in different parts of the country, somehow, like there's seven degrees to so and so, like you either have worked with someone or you know someone that has worked with them.
The fact that, we're meeting now, I'm sure that we have so many mutuals at this point that it feels like we've just known each other for life at this point.
Simi: I agree. I second that.
Mica: So shout out to Audrey and to Rishon and Yuhsing. Hello everybody. I actually want to get right into this because I've been so excited about this. I saw it on my calendar, our interview coming up, and I was like, oh, yay, yay, yay, yay, so let's get right into this. I want to go back to your beginning. You had a career in advertising before transitioning to food photography, [00:08:00] take me back to the moment when you realized that a change was needed. Did you know right from the start that food photography was the path for you?
Simi: You know, I've been a late bloomer and for years, I think I was lost as to what do I really want? So I tried my hand at advertising. I was a media planner. Crunching numbers and doing all of that. It was fun, but I knew that that's not where I belong. After that, I tried a lot of things.
I tried to learn how to play the piano and it's probably the hardest thing I've ever done. That didn't go so well. My mother is an artist. She was naturally my first teacher and I knew how to draw and how to do oil painting. So I dabbled a bit in that. I was still finding the juice missing from my life, in terms of expressing myself creatively.
As I grew older, I felt this [00:09:00] need to express, that something in me needs to be voiced. And for no particular reason, like a flower blooms, just to voice that. And I said, okay, I'm going to be patient with myself. Meanwhile, I loved to cook, I loved, exploring new recipes and even the traditional Indian recipes.
I said, okay, let me just document all of these. I started doing that. And I said, okay, let me document them with a picture. That's the first time I took a picture and I was like, what is this? It just doesn't look anything like what I have cooked. It looks terrible. That got me excited because I love to learn.
I started exploring about the camera, about light, about color, texture. And the deeper I got into it, it just felt I've come home. Even when I was taking most terrible pictures, I was just so happy doing it. I was just so excited [00:10:00] and happy and learning and seeing where am I going wrong.
I've also realized that this is photography is something you can never stop learning. Every day you learn something. Every time you up your camera you learn something. And that's what I love about it because it's never a low stake. There's always be something, I need to learn or I need to master or express in a different way.
Mica: You mentioned earlier that you felt like you had a need to express yourself. When you realized that about yourself, that you needed to express something. Did you know exactly what you needed to express?
Simi: You know what? It's such a beautiful question. Because I think creativity is so fluid. And it's so ethereal. You can never pin it down with words. Or with anything. It's just that feeling in the heart when you just composed an image. [00:11:00] It may not be the best image in the world. It may not be the image that wins an award.
You mothered that through you. I really don't think I have the capability or the capacity to even put that into words, that what was it or what is it right now for me, right? It's that something, and probably, you know what, I would also not like to describe it because it's so beautiful, just left untouched by words.
Mica: It's like as soon as you identify it, it loses that, that magic. I view photography as that carrot that's always being dangled in front of you and every photographer, they want to catch that carrot. They want to reach that point where they look at their work and they're like, I have reached perfection as a photographer.
But as you said, it, it is never ending. It's very fluid. I love that you said that and that's just such a really awesome perspective to have on it. I want to move [00:12:00] to your conversation with EmpiricsAsia, because you used a term that I'd never, ever seen in my life, and I was just like, this is so cool.
You mentioned culinary optics. So I want to dive deeper into what that means to you.
Simi: Sure. Before that, I would like to tell you how that name came to being. I was sitting with my husband and we were talking. He's very good with words. I said, you need to pen two words. One is my passion for food and translate that into photography. And please don't say food photography.
Something that has that sass to it and I forgot about it. He came back in a week and he says, culinary optics. I was like, what? Because I had forgotten about it. He's like, yeah, you asked me something and , this is what I came up with.
Oh my God, I love it. So that's where it comes from. Culinary world is, it's like a [00:13:00] deep world, not just a food of textures, of colors, but it's a story of heritage. It's a story of family. It's a story of friendship. We sit around the table, we share a meal. I How fortunate. We all are to enjoy that moment of intimacy. Where we are sharing the same meal, we are laughing, we are talking. That is in a sense what culinary means to me. And optics is how just a piece of glassware can capture all of that and all of the things that are unsaid and present it to someone who is not present there. Which documents that moment of, sharing and caring and food and the textures and the color and the storytelling. So I think that it's two loaded words for me.
Mica: The loaded words are always the best. It's like that very heavy question. They go, so how did you get into food [00:14:00] photography? And you're like "Well, you got like five hours because."
Simi: Okay. Question one. Five hours.
Mica: Question one: five hours. It's so funny. When you told your husband, don't use food photographer, it reminds me of the mentorship that I'm in right now. They had us come up with three keywords to describe us as photographers.
In my case, food photographer. I use the word vibrant. And so like the group of mentors, they're like, I want you to dig deeper. Vibrant is a great word, but that's what every food photographer uses. So I need you to go even deeper to describe yourself. It was such a challenge to think about what three words am I going to choose? All the words on the planet, what three words am I going to choose? So the next time I do that, we're going to hit up your husband so that he can help us out with some [00:15:00] words.
Simi: Let's have secretly hire him to help us with.
We're good with images, we're not good with words.
Mica: Yes, and so culinary optics, you mentioned about culinary being a way that you can get to know someone and it's a very intimate thing to have a meal with a group of friends. Whenever you work with brands, do you like think of what do you want their, their customers to know about this brand?
What story am I building up for this? Does that have an impact on you when you're planning your shoots?
Simi: Absolutely. That's the foundation. Where the shoot starts, or the first conversation, what does the brand stand for? Does it stand for organic, vegan, authenticity or is it modern, fusion? Everything in a sense is built from what the brand [00:16:00] stands for. From the choice of colors to the props , whether we are using the human element in it or how we are storytelling. Because it's so important to integrate that brand within the imagery.
Especially for startups, I just love to have a conversation with the design team. So that everybody is in the same page, so we are all working together, and we all understand that what is the archetype of the brand, everything is aligned. Of course, for seasoned brands, we already know and we are already aware of what they stand for, and of course, the brief really helps.
Asking questions helps, and sometimes I can be quite a pain because I ask too many questions, but I always feel, it's good to ask questions so that we don't waste time when we are shooting. We know what exactly we are doing on day of shoot. Because [00:17:00] every minute counts when, when people are paying for it and you don't want to waste their time.
Mica: I like what you said about asking questions so there's no, no room for misunderstanding. I tell new photographers, I'm like, if you are unsure of anything. It is better to ask now, before, after the shoot, when there's nothing you can do about it, besides to go back and re shoot.
Ask those questions now, and ask them plenty. You can't go in to your shoot, if there's anything that you don't fully understand. You need to go back and make sure that you get a confirmation on them.
Simi: We've all learned the hard way. There have been a shoot earlier on where I walked in and I'm like, okay, I'll shoot what they want me to. Okay. This is the rough brief. Then you come back and they, they love it. They're like, Oh my God, we love this. We love this. Then you come back and they're like, okay, we don't like this.
We don't like that. Human people change and different circumstances, we think differently. So now everything is [00:18:00] documented. I love putting like these other 10 takeaways and these other 10 things that you know, it's not aligned with the brand or if you think that we need to rework on it, let's get together and meet.
Meeting three, four times before the shoot. Really cuts down the amount of time you spend, even post processing and doing all of that.
Mica: Oh, the post processing.
Simi: That's another, that's another podcast.
Mica: I recently had a lead when I sent over the estimate and they saw one of the line items for post production and they're like, wait, what, what, why are you charging me for that? And I'm like I have to edit the photos, this goes beyond the shoot. And they're like, wow. Really? What did you think was gonna happen?
Simi: A lot of people do think, I'm not kidding you. A lot of people [00:19:00] do think Photoshop is like a Xerox machine where you put a crappy picture and out comes out the most stunning burger or steak or what have you. Okay, that's a podcast for another day. As I said You
Mica: I'm trying not to laugh super duper hard, but in my soul, I'm dying with laughter because that is exactly how I was when I started in photography. I was just like, Photoshop will save every crappy photo I've ever taken, and it's so funny because even now like, I know it won't fix it. I know it won't fix it, but I'll learn some things, and I'll go, maybe I could save it.
And I'll go find a photo from like, 2015, and it's the crappiest photo in the world. I'll go back in Photoshop, and I'll try to save it, and I'm like, let it go, bro. Like, It's gone. It's done. [00:20:00] There's no saving it And.
Simi: You have to get over that picture.
Mica: And so like with AI, the Photoshop started doing all this, AI generative stuff.
I thought to myself, is it, is it time now? Will I be able to save this crappy thing? And I think it's because of what you mentioned earlier about how even though this is not a good photo, there's that emotional attachment to it. It may not be good. It may not be. It's probably not going to be on a billboard, but it has a special memory attached.
Are there any photos that come to mind that you still go back to and look back with fondness that maybe isn't so good, but still holds a special memory for you?
Simi: Quite a few. I recently posted on Instagram a very old picture of mine. It was a cake kept on a table with a bunch of flowers. I laughed at it because it was not the best. Someone commented, it was in the stories, and someone sent me a message saying, [00:21:00] "This is beautiful."
I sent the message back saying, Not so much. And she said, "No, because it has innocence.
Simi: It was such a beautiful comment. That I sat and looked at the picture and I said, it is innocent because, I had no idea about the techniques or anything. It's just a piece of beautiful cake sitting there, right?
That's one, then I don't know whether it's it's about pictures that were not so good. I don't judge my pictures, I just like the experience of taking the pictures anymore. Like I used to judge every picture coming out. It's deep scrutiny. Don't do that anymore. But a few of years ago, I did a body of work for Adobe and it was photographing my culture and tradition and food heritage.
I learned so much and I [00:22:00] enjoyed so much that. I was on a roll, I was asked to make 250 images and at the end of it, I was sitting on 600 images. I really, really enjoyed it. That's what photography is, an extension of ourselves, right?
It doesn't matter because today's picture in 5-10 years, we're going to look at it and probably not like it or like it and we change constantly. But it's that experience, and when you're taking that picture, you're making that connection. That's what makes it so beautiful and so special and such a beautiful art form.
Mica: I love that comment about innocence. That is such a beautiful way of looking at it. For the listeners who are newer photographers to look at their own work with that same love. That self love. There's this idea of I will only start to compliment my work when it looks like this photographer. Or I'll only consider myself, upper echelon when I can [00:23:00] do this.
It's like no. Enjoy every single step of the way and enjoy that innocence. That innocent period as a new photographer, because everything is just so new. I love that. I'm taking that with me forever. I'll look at my own work with that same perspective about innocence, about, being new and discovering.
You did a post on your blog, Tumeric 'n Spice, which I like, I went all the way, I was loving it, I was loving everything about it, and, one of the many things that stood out, was your piece on "What is a creative block?", and it really struck a chord with me because there was a period where I was trying so hard to force myself to be creative, and my heart just wasn't in it, and it finally took me just like stepping back and going, okay, I just need to go find other outlets for the time [00:24:00] being before I can get back in the studio, because obviously this just isn't happening right now.
So that piece really struck a chord with me because every single day that I was taking my break, I also felt pangs of guilt. I still had my work and everything, but like my personal projects was just, and I thought I'm being a lazy photographer.
I'm not doing enough. I'm not doing this, this, this, and this, and this, and no wonder why that didn't happen. It just went down all of these trails of negativity. How do you navigate and differentiate between the moments of when you need genuine rest versus when it might be procrastination, which I don't believe that it's procrastination, but at what point is it, I need to rest versus I should get my butt back out there and just do it?
Simi: Mica, I love the question, because [00:25:00] I'll start by saying that this is a labor of love. Say you have pet, do you for a moment stop loving the pet or procrastinate to love the pet? You don't, you just love. We are in this culture that we are in, we are so used to go, go, go, go, go, go, go, create, create, create.
This is also creating. It's fermenting in you. Something is fermenting in you, something is percolating in you. Take a deep breath and sit down. And I've learned that because for me, I've just been that kind of a person. Okay, what's next? Okay, I've cleaned this room, what do I need to clean next? Okay, what do I do this?
This is my task list. Just go, go, go, go, go. And then I realize why am I doing this? Why am I not taking the deep breath? Then I realized that this is true for me, and it may not be true for a lot of people, but if there is procrastination [00:26:00] happening, there is something underlying that is bothering your body. It may not be just taking the camera and doing that. With me, I have seen, it's a skill I'm yet not comfortable with. And I have to have the honesty to face it and say, you know what? I'm afraid. That's the reason I'm not doing this. Now, I know that. So now, get on with it, learn the skill, and do the shoot. Or, it could just be that you're going through a healing phase, and healing phase doesn't mean that something, the earth shattered and swallowed you or something. It could be very simple as, feeling your images are turning mediocre, or you're not getting that joy, and you just need to heal from that.
For each one of us, we have to go deeper and see what it is. If it is procrastination, we have to go inside in ourselves and see why are we doing that? What is it that is [00:27:00] letting us talk? And pause is also the process of creating, because you never know what you'll do when you are taking time off.
You never know. Opening yourself to a newer and newer experience so that you can bring that into your art.
Because we get so caught up that we forget to see. These pauses. It just gives us that opportunity to see.
Mica: I love that. That analogy about your pet, you're right. There's nothing my dog can do, and he does a lot. There's nothing my dog can do that would make me not love him and make me not... want to care for him. What advice would you give to a photographer who is struggling with finding that love again, or they're close to not loving photography and they might want to walk away.
Simi: Walk away.[00:28:00] See how that feels like, right? Sometimes it's okay to walk away and take pause and say, you know what? Maybe it lasted this long. Maybe you'll find something else. Why are we limiting ourself or putting ourselves in boxes? Just because we did something for 10 years or 20 years, maybe there's music waiting for you out there, right?
Giving yourself the permission to be flexible. And of course, the practical aspect does come in, you have to pay the bills, you have your clients and that's when you build your skill set. That you can shoot a particular kind of food because you've done it so many times that you're not compromising on the quality of it just because you're going through a phase where your creative juices are, little sappy and dry, right?
That's why we keep doing these personal projects again and again and again to keep that skills [00:29:00] alive, so that you can do it with your eye closed. And you know exactly how to light particular subject. But, also to try something new, to try playing the piano.
Now, not everybody can epic fail like I did. Maybe you can become a music astro, right? Or just gardening, or something else, right? At the same time, even though I'm in my low phase, I also try to photograph something that I find challenging. Like ice cream is a challenging subject to work with.
Say I'm feeling low, but I'll still do it because I want to keep my skill set alive, but I'm aware that, I'm feeling a little stretched out. It'll take me longer and give yourself the patience. So it's like a fine tuning, fine balance where, it's your profession and you also know it's a labor of love.
Mica: I love your message of walk away. Got a short life. [00:30:00] It's not bringing you joy.
Then walk away. Some people realize that professionally this isn't for them. That is a really brave thing to admit.
Simi: It's so brave and so wise. It takes a level of wisdom to understand and not go in a rut that everybody is in, right? Or everybody's portraying they are in, or who knows, right? The world is very different from what is shown versus what really is. Especially social media, right?
Mica: Yeah. Yeah. Photography doesn't have to be something you make a living there. It's a very brave thing to say, that scares me. I don't want that. That's not the kind of life that I want. I want the stability. I want the security. And then I want to be able to create on my own terms.
I don't want that added risk of, if [00:31:00] I don't book a client, I'm not going to be able to pay my bills. I don't need that kind of pressure on my shoulders.
It's a very brave thing to admit and be okay with.
Simi: It's just brave to just follow your voice because in, in today's time, it's so hard because we have made such boxes of archetypes of who we should be. Just to follow your voice takes a lot of fighting your own demons and it also takes so much courage and maturity to do that. More power to people who know what they want, which is the one thing we need to know what we want, and then to follow through.
Mica: What advice would you give to a photographer who isn't sure of what they want as as a profession, if they're thinking about pursuing this professionally how would they go about discovering that want?
Simi: I think the best way is to just [00:32:00] try. It's just to go out there to local restaurant and try a couple of shoots. Firstly to hone your skill, to learn your skill, to be good at what you do, so that people can hire you. And for that it. Yes. Practice, practice, practice, as I'm sure you, everyone who's been picked up a camera knows that there is no secret sauce.
Mica: What do they call it? The the 10, 000 hours to become an expert at something?
So after you've been done that, approach a few, local restaurant or some brands on Instagram and ask them if you can take pictures for them for the social media, right?
And try it out for yourself. Each one of us have different experience. My experience and my perception may not be same as yours. You may love to work with a team and when you are in in food photography, it's always teamwork. Or you may like to work alone in your studio. Trying your hand at something always helps.
I have a couple of my [00:33:00] students who are trying that out right now. They still have the day jobs and then I'm like, don't change anything, right? Try. Test the waters. Spend the time. And see if you like it. And then transition out. If you enjoy it so much, get a couple of clients, which you know, will come back to you.
That's my advice. Yeah.
Mica: So in your bio, you wrote that your upbringing was surrounded by art and creativity. I learned a new form of science, paleobotanist. That's what your father was, but your mom was an artist. And so you had color, texture, light, and shadow.
You said that they were everyday tools of expression. I love, love that expression. Did those early experiences shape your journey as a food photographer?
Simi: Absolutely. A hundred percent. My mother is the artist, my dad was the scientist, but they always worked like a team. Because my mother would create. [00:34:00] She does embroidery, but she calls it human moods and thread, and my dad would come home and they would sit with coffee for hours together, talking about her work of art and talking about texture and the color and the choices and what could have made it better or how it could be if it was a green shirt or a dress. And we would always be there as kids just participating and my mom would always ask me, what do you think about it? That's where it came because it sets your thinking. Mom, you made her wear a red sari. Why did you make it red and green? She would tell us like, look at her earrings. She has a little bit of the green in it. So I wanted to bring that out in the sari as well. And then I would say, Oh, that's how you reinforce the color.
Probably if she, she didn't have that green on her, I wouldn't notice that that's green. That's reinforcing what she has. It was never taught to me directly that this is what [00:35:00] I'm doing, but that's how I learned. I tell that to my students, and I tell them when you get up in the morning to get dressed, do you have to think so much how to color coordinate?
Don't you just do it? So we are all artists. We all know how to use color. Start with that, and then explore outside your box. My mom would nudge us to, and when she was teaching us how to paint, she would nudge us, put our own she would say, yeah, I know this is how the flower looks, how does it look to your eye?
That informed, the foundation of seeing visually and interpreting that in a different way that. Understanding that a rose is different for everyone. It means a different thing for everyone. And my father's always been very philosophical, and he's always been the kind to give us [00:36:00] that space to experiment with, and ask like a billion questions. The combination of them, who they were and who my mom is, just helped me grow. It's only when you get out of the house, you realize how fortunate you were.
When you're in the household, you never know, you don't understand when you're younger. When you come out and you see, Oh, this is not something that everyone does. Oh, okay. It comes naturally to me. How come? That's because there was so many years of watching her paint and mix colors.
Intuitively I can tell when I see color what could be the undertone colors in it. Sometimes people are working with me or my students, they ask me, how do you know? How do you know that it has a hint of blue in it? I used to think that's something everyone can see. I think it's just like seeing my mother play with so many colors and watching it, it just becomes a part of you. She always loved to present food [00:37:00] in a very, appetizing way. It was just not a meal. It was a celebration. She still, at 85, has that patience to do it. Like she made a cake few months ago. I think it was Mother's Day and it was like, Happy Mother's Day. I was like, okay, mom, where was the party? She said, no, I just got a few of my friends and we cut the cake and we ate it. And it was so adorable. So,
Mica: I love that so much.
One thing I noticed about about your post and about your blog and just the interviews that you've done is that you are so good at talking about your work and expressing like, this is the colors that I use. This is the textures that I chose.
This is a story that I'm telling and it makes so much sense hearing you talk about your, your mom telling you to talk about the work that the art that she's creating and to talk about art in general. It's as important as learning how to work your camera, being able to articulate the art that you're creating [00:38:00] and your dad being a scientist. Scientists, their entire being is to ask questions and to conduct experiments to get an answer to this question. As you were learning photography, do you think your skills in being able to talk about art helped you in your journey to learning photography?
Simi: I love that question because I didn't even know, my dad and me were the non artists of the house. My sister and mother were the artists and I didn't know I had any skill. However, I did know that I would look at a picture or look at a painting and get lost in it.
So I knew that I had this deep love for art. I didn't know that I could mix color. I could do any of that. When I started learning how to photograph, the camera was like this big, big, huge, difficult, incredibly challenging, [00:39:00] technical monster in front of me.
I thought there were a hundred knobs, literally. And I was like, oh my god, I'll never get this. I realized the camera is an instrument. It has to become an extension of you. When I learned that, and I let go of trying to control the camera, I started realizing, I have a vision. I see that if I mix these two colors, this is what is going to happen.
Mica: It's like when you have a lottery ticket and you're scratching off the numbers and you're just like discovering one new thing about yourself every single time you scratch a number. I just love that. I love, love all of that.
What are some things that they can do to start learning how to talk about their art?
Simi: Journaling about their work. It's so enriching as an experience. Your journal is your own playground. Nobody's going to read it. You can write whatever.
You can make grammatical [00:40:00] mistake. You can make spelling mistake. You can do whatever. You can doodle there. You can do whatever you want. Journaling and maintaining that, what was the experience like to photograph that flower today or that, Play Doh. What was that moment where I found the connection?
Once you start doing that, you just find the words, they just come to you. I realized one thing about art, any form or any skill is you have to ferment it a bit. You have to work on it. It will not just come out of nowhere one fine day because you've done it. You can't talk about your photography because you've done it 10 times. Journaling really helps and also looking at podcasts like yourself, listening to them, listening to other photographers talk gives us, sometimes we create something, but we don't know.
What was the thinking behind it? We genuinely don't know what you know, but we love what we did. [00:41:00] But then we start see how others deconstruct their own pictures. We de deconstruct ours and we learn. So sometimes we are learning backwards, sometimes we are not. So it's like a fun maze we are in, right?
Isn't it just so beautiful that life could be like that for us?
Mica: I love that the journaling and that being the one private place where you can keep your thoughts literally to yourself. Social media has made it to where it makes you feel pressured that you have to share everything. And some things you want to keep to yourself. You can talk about the frustrations that you had with this shoot.
Or, maybe there's a another photographer who you're, secretly stalking and you're like, Oh my God, I want to know everything about them. But don't like really stalk them.
Simi: We don't recommend stalking here.
Mica: You could go to jail for that. That's illegal. [00:42:00] But I love that. I love that. In one of my classes, it was photo journalism class. Whenever we'd submit our photos, we also had to include a caption to the photo.
I don't know why that was the most difficult thing for me. I could talk for five years about a photo and I could give the story about the behind the scenes, the coming of, the actual taking place. But when it came to that one line, that one little two, maybe two sentences of a caption, I was just stonewalled.
I was like, how could I possibly wrap everything that happened, this heavy load into this two sentences? I can't do it. I can't do it. It's impossible. So I wonder if journaling would help summarize those feelings about how I feel about a certain photo or what message I'm trying to send whenever I post a photo.
Simi: It's hard. If I had to summarize it in a few [00:43:00] words, that would be epic for me too because we love to talk about what we create. We love to talk behind the scene. People love to talk about mood and everything. It is a difficult, just to give a small caption. It's always hard.
Mica: Going back to earlier about picking the words to describe your work, what three words would you choose as your moral compass as a photographer?
Simi: Passion. Enjoyment. Being.
Mica: I love that. Tell me the meanings behind those three words.
Simi: Passion because it's an expression of something I love deeply. Enjoyment. Because, without enjoyment, why am I even doing it? The whole purpose of having a meal out with your family, everything, it's enjoying that moment and Being is, photography is that space that just grounds me to [00:44:00] be who I am. So yeah, passion, enjoyment, being.
Mica: You mentioned earlier that you have students that you teach. I'm curious to know a little bit more about that. What has surprised you the most? About teaching other students photography?
Simi: I think the fact that I learned so much.
Sometimes I tease my students. I said, you know what? You're paying me to learn. They laugh and because perspective. Normal perspective is so important when you are a photographer because it tells you that this is how someone can look at something very different from the way you're looking at it. So when you're creating for a brand for someone else, you have a broader perspective.
Mica: When your students on their first day or their first class, what is something that they're [00:45:00] most excited about?
Do you think that they carry that excitement all the way through to the very end of the course?
Simi: They do. You have to take that excitement and channel it to creativity. I make it very clear that they need to learn, produce. Excitement is all great, but it shouldn't be there. What is it giving me concrete? What am I learning here? What am I doing here? How am I channeling it here?
Mica: I like what you said about channeling that excitement into a direction into something concrete and tangible that they can walk away with at the end of that class. That is. So important.
So I have one last question. Two, two. I always say I have one or two last questions and the next thing I know I'm asking like five.
Simi: I'm enjoying it. So we can talk for a few more hours. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Mica: Whenever I do these interviews, people are like, Holy crap, a whole [00:46:00] hour went by. I had no idea. And That's right. That's how I roll. This isn't a job interview. This is a conversation. If we're not having fun, then, what's, what's, like you said, what's, if you're not enjoying what you're doing, then what's the point in doing it?
When I was looking into your bio and doing my research, you mentioned that in your home, meals always center the conversation. When you're having breakfast, you're talking about lunch, and when you're eating lunch, you're talking about dinner.
You married into a family that also loves food, which is like a steal of a deal. Hello. Luckily, my, my in laws are so food centered as well. They're Jewish. So I learned about Jewish food and Jewish culture and, and Passover is my favorite. Cause I'm like, Ooh, all this wine I'm drinking, you know, all this wine and this matzo ball soup.
So like from someone who comes from a family who loves food, [00:47:00] and also is centered around food.
Those are like memories that I love and carry with me. So I'm curious to know from your perspective and from your own memories, what's a memory that stands out that makes you smile about your family and food?
Simi: India, food is a huge celebration and every festival has its own menu. And it's, in every region of the country. So if you go to the east of India, it's a different menu. If you go to the west, it's different. So literally every dish you can write a book on it because there'll be so many variants. One such memory is that there is this festival called the Ganesh Chaturthi. We just had it about two weeks ago. We have an elaborate meal that is offered to Ganesha, the elephant God. And it's about, I would say eight or 10 course meal.
I remember as a child, I would be like, do I [00:48:00] have to eat this again? Because it was just so many things to eat, right? And over the years, it just grew on me.
I would anticipate and say, okay, what desert are you making? Because the variance of, what you can do and what desert are you gonna make this year? Now I carry the tradition, I do the same thing and that's a connection that I have to my childhood and that my daughter has, enjoys. There's so many memories that come with food and come with what was my dad's favorite.
And I make it now, I think about him or what is my mom's favorite. My mom has got a huge, big sweet tooth. And whenever I make a dessert, I have to send her a picture. Everything is so food centric or my mother in law making, my favorite dish for me or everybody in our [00:49:00] household is.
We can have our own cook off here, right?
Mica: Can, can I, can I come to the cook off? I
I I can't cook, but I will happily eat everything and give everyone 10 stars.
Simi: Yay, we all win.
Mica: Everybody wins
Simi: Everybody wins, yeah.
Mica: One of my clients, we have become really great friends and they invited us over for dinner and they're both from India as well. And she, had all told us, she's make sure you like come hungry with an empty stomach because, uh, we're going to have a good time.
My husband, who is normally a bottomless pit. He can eat so much food. It seems like he always has room. I don't understand it. He's six foot five. He weighs probably two pounds. I don't know where it goes. But that night, [00:50:00] after we left and we got in the car, and at some point he said to me, he's I'm so full. And that's just because she kept, it was just never ending, and he's... He's just eating and eating and eating and he was like, that was the best meal I've ever had in my life. This was a small meal. It's five courses and I barely made it through three.
Like when four hit, I was like, I can't I didn't even have dessert that night. I took the dessert home because I was just, I was like comatose by the time we got to the door. I was like, I'm about to spend the night at your house.
I am so full. But my husband, he made it through the whole meal, and I thought at one point we were gonna have to pull over so that I could drive, because he was so full, it was, he, ah, yeah.
So 10 course meal, I don't know if we could make it. It's insane.
Simi: Know what, you'll learn. You'll hang out with me for a few months, a few years, you'll learn.
Mica: Hey, it's like you [00:51:00] said, practice, right?
Simi: Exactly. To start practicing, three course, four course, you're not having, what is this? Just a bowl of soup? No. Where's the six course meal?
Mica: I will start practicing now. I'm gonna get ready for this festival 10 course in.
Simi: that's it
Mica: And that's all there is to it.
Simi: and your
Mica: I'm here.
Mica: I am now. My, my last question for you is, what do you hope the listeners learn from today's episode?
Simi: I would love to have the listeners learn that, not to take life so seriously. To enjoy what they do and just create. Don't have to create for someone or an exceptional artwork. Today's exceptional artwork will be tomorrow's mediocre artwork, or today's mediocre, maybe tomorrow, exceptional art.
Enjoy what you [00:52:00] do, and connect with people through food, and just enjoy yourself. Just take out the burden of creating. I think that's a huge burden we all tend to carry that, we have to outdo our own selves. We don't need to. As long as we are having fun. You enjoy creating it and just to be in that space of creation. I think it'll just make the world so much a better place because if we are all happy with what we're doing and loving our own lives so much, there is no time for, criticism or hate or any of that.
Mica: That's, that's awesome. And I love it. Where can the listeners find you, legally stalk you?
Simi: Hi, Hayden. So they can find me in on Instagram culinaryoptics and Simi Jois on Facebook, LinkedIn, my website, [00:53:00] simijois.com. That's all the information. If you know about my work, about my workshops and I think my email is there too. And anyone has any questions or want to ask me something after they hear this podcast, most welcome.
I love to talk to people and love to get to know people and just connect.
Mica: Thank you so much for being on the show. I loved every second of this conversation. I really, we could talk for 5, 000 years and I don't think I would ever get tired of it.
So we're, we're besties now. We're BFFs and I look forward to more conversations talking to you more. Just thank you so much for being on the show.
Simi: Thank you so much, Mica. I really enjoyed it. I don't, I don't think it sounds like a podcast. It sounds like two crazy friends chatting and laughing and laughing at their own jokes, I hope your audience finds it funny [00:54:00] because we just enjoyed it and this is just naturally us. So thank you for everyone who will listen to this and thank you to you.