I don’t have as much time for reading blogs as I would like but I have my favourites. One of them is Aran Goyoaga’s blog, Cannelle et Vanille – I discovered it several years ago when I was first figuring out my gluten-free/auto-immune diet and I’ve since spent a lot of time on there. I’ve made her recipes (delicious), drooled over her photos and soaked up her stories – I adore recipes that come with stories. And I want to LIVE in her photographs. I rarely comment, which is odd because I don’t usually have a problem sharing my thoughts (haha) and, for my part, I love receiving comments over here – but perhaps I just felt shy about it. Even though I had never met Aran in real life, over time I became certain that we would get along: that we would hang out if we lived nearby, or that she would come visit and love Montreal/Hudson and take pictures of my dog (haha just kidding… not really). It didn’t help that we were already friends on Twitter and she was so sweet and gracious (and likes a lot of the same music I do – a sure sign of get-along-ness).
So this past February, when I found out that the lovely Mayssam was bringing Aran to Montreal for a workshop… well. You can imagine my excitement. And slight panic. The week before the workshop I was so excited I forgot that I barely know how to use a camera properly. On Saturday morning I packed up a few props, our camera, some backup gluten-free crackers and Panda and we headed into town.
We arrived at the lovely, bright and airy SAT Foodlab at 9am – I invited Panda and Christian in for a quick hello (Panda may or may not have peed on the industrial entryway carpet – sorry SAT!) and hugged Mayssam and Aran because I just couldn’t help myself. I was so happy to be there.
It was an AMAZING day. Aran shared how Cannelle et Vanille came to be, we all took turns introducing ourselves, and then Aran got to work on the first of many styling projects for the day. The ease with which she put a shot together was amazing to watch – like a true pro, she made something hard look incredibly easy. And delicious! I think my stomach grumbled all day, everything looked so tasty. Aran shared camera tips and demonstrated her process – from setup and styling to lighting strategies, bounce boards and photo editing. One key element that really stayed with me was to decide what story you want to tell with your photograph. Take the time to shape the mood you’re going for and the rest will fall into place.
The talented chefs at Foodlab prepared a gorgeous lunch for everyone and were on hand all day to help – it really felt like an amazing day at camp. Everyone was happy to be there, pitch in, learn and share. Aran styled a beautiful salad of shaved fennel, fava beans and quail eggs, a gorgeous (and gluten free!) trifle that I wanted to devour and a tray of luscious roasted tomatoes. I was in heaven.
That afternoon, it was time for us to try our hand at what Aran does so well – it was the part of the day I was most nervous about. There was a too-great abundance of cool props and beautiful food, and I was almost frozen with indecision and uncertainty. A beautiful piece of fabric caught my eye, and then a plate, and a fork. I started fiddling with radishes, sprigs of thyme, and a strand of cherry tomatoes. It wasn’t bad. I played with my camera settings but I could tell they were wrong; although I knew what I wanted my shot to look like, I wasn’t sure how to get there. I raised my hand and Aran came over. She looked at my setup and said – it’s good (huge sigh of relief), but why so much stuff? Look how beautiful these tomatoes are. Just make it all about the tomatoes.
She was so right. We cleared out the radishes and thyme and put the tomatoes front and center – then Aran scattered a few herb sprigs, artfully crushed up some crumbs and lo and behold, it became a beautiful shot of true simplicity. Then she helped me find the sweet spot in my camera, and here’s what I came up with. It’s my Anile’s-best-try-mostly-helped-by-Aran shot.
Another aspect of the workshop that I really enjoyed and appreciated was meeting and befriending a whole whack of talented, sweet and funny women who were just as pleased as I was to be there – it’s been so much fun to get to know them and keep in touch with them. As for Aran, she was everything I thought she’d be and more – sweet, funny, beautiful, incredibly generous and humble, and just a joy to be around. I soaked up as much as I could that day and am still energized by it over a week later. I know that each person can take away something different from the same experience but after many months of chronic illness and the compromises that come with that, this day was really memorable for me and truly kicked off this summer in the best way possible.
A huge, special thank-you to the wonderful and sweet Mayssam Samaha who orchestrated the entire weekend from beginning to end, and whom I was so happy to finally get to meet in person. This week I’ll be making some gluten-free strawberry trifle and getting to know a few more settings on our camera. Thank-you Aran :)