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Liz Clayman
Photographer - Food, Restaurant and Lifestyle
September 30, 2014

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

For me, the photographer part came first, and then the realization of the food part followed along later. I grew up in a very garden-centric, bread baking type of family and always knew I was lucky to have had that upbringing. As for the photography, I knew that was what I wanted to be since I was a teeny little kid (I was always inspired by my dad, who shot professionally back in the day). I used to get in trouble all the time for sneaking off with my parents 35mm and shooting roll after roll of our family's cat.

So, I studied fine art photography at Bennington College, and moved to New York afterwards. I had always had summer jobs in restaurants growing up, so when the photo thing was going slow, I got a job part time in a restaurant down in the West Village. To say I got swept up in the whole food scene of NYC would be an understatement. I fell in love with the rhythm, the regulars, hospitality, the hard work, the late nights; it opened my eyes to the power of a true neighborhood restaurant. I started shooting food at home and in any restaurant that would let me, and soon people started noticing. Eventually they even started hiring me!

How did you get your current good food job?

I saw a listing on GFJ for Sweets and Bitters (a seasonal mini cookbook), and met with founder Hannah Kirshner. We just hit it off - Hannah was used to explaining every detail and for some reason, I understood her goal and aesthetics very easily. Within two weeks, I'd shot my first story for them. Two days after our first shoot, they called me again, asking if I could shoot a second story for them. I was totally flattered. (Also, it was a taco and margarita party, so I was all over that!) I ended up shooting 2 out of the 4 stories that made up their second volume, Corner Store Entertaining.  For the next volume, I shot two more stories.

The second half of Sweets and Bitters team was Mira Evnine, who was always on set - she was officially the publisher, but also jumped in as stylist, recipe consultant, model wrangler, etc? Mira and I also got along really well. When we weren't shooting for Sweets and Bitters, Mira and I teamed up to do a series of side projects. She'd do the recipe developing, cooking and written aspects, I'd shoot and style.
The connections that I made through Sweets & Bitters have made up a huge amount of my current client base. One of my favorite connections are the folks from Brooklyn Slate Company. I met them at a Sweets and Bitters event - I've shot many projects with them in the past year or two.

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?

Having worked in restaurants for so long, I'm familiar with the rhythm and flow of insanely busy kitchens. I don't get flustered; I get out of the way, I say "behind you" and I make it easy for chefs to have me shooting in their space. I think I get a lot of my more successful shots because I can hang.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?

I think about quitting probably every week or so! I always toyed/fantasized with the idea of getting a 'desk job' dealing with photography, but every time I've tried, I get ants in my pants and have to leave after just a few months. In the end, I'm pretty sure I'm on the right path and just have to get comfortable with the idea that the next step won't be clear until its already in the works. I'm a very lucky gal.

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?

In my opinion the greatest opportunity is also the greatest challenge: revamping the way America's food system functions. There is nothing good about the way we have been growing, raising and consuming food in this country for the past few decades - I hope the biggest pushes and growth we see in the food industry are those that bring things closer to a place of sustainability and healthfulness for our bodies and environment.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

Cheese and wine? and travel. That one's easy.

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