Bringing autumn into the studio

As the wheel of the year slowly turns, autumn is my favorite season during that cyclical journey. The drop in temperatures, the clearness of deep blue skies, the changing leaf colors, the rustle of falling leaves and their musty smell when kicked under foot; all these descriptors fascinate me and some times I attempt to bring these sensations into the studio.

Fortunately for me, I have a project in my advanced studio photography that challenges my students to create scenes in the studio that could be perceived as having been photographed outdoors on location. Not only do we need to consider appropriate subject matter, but also we need to give attention to the details of props, backgrounds, and most importantly, the lighting. All these elements should work in concert to recreate a believable fluid outdoor environment inside the controlled parameters of the studio.

This past week I demonstrated to my advanced studio class techniques to control the mixing of various Kelvin temperatures of light sources to help achieve the believability of an outside/inside shot. I included natural elements as part of my supporting props to help create the sense of being outside. After the class demo was completed, I remained in the studio another hour and kept fine-tuning the shot. It was a short period of involvement that allowed me to slip into the creative right-brain mode of working and to forget about daily problems, schedules, dinner, and all the mundane minutiae of life. Photography therefore, can function as a catalyst for not only our visual pleasure, but in some instances, for all our sensual encounters, whether in the studio or out in the environment.

Below is a simple still-life shot from my class demo, followed by a similar shot produced the prior year for the same assignment.

"Harvest table, Autumn 2011" © Terry Ownby. Lighting demo for my advanced studio class using mixed Kelvin temperatures.

Behind the scenes of "Harvest table, 2011." © Terry Ownby.

"Harvest table, Autumn 2010" © Terry Ownby.

Colorado Fish Tacos–A Touch of Eclectic Culture!

Fish tacos have to be one of my all-time favorites! Living on Colorado’s Front Range, one is exposed to fish tacos everywhere. I must admit, when I first moved there and heard about these incredible tacos, I was a bit put off. It took me a couple of years to warm up to trying fish in taco shells. I’m glad I finally came to my senses and tried them!

Throughout the Front Range one can find an eclectic eatery called Wahoo’s Fish Taco. These restaurants have an interesting story and a unique fusion of Mexican, Brazilian, and Asian foods, combined with an eccentric surfing culture. You can read more about the three Asian brothers from San Paolo who created this awesome dynasty in California, Colorado, Texas, and Hawaii on their corporate website. But, on to my story!

When I accepted a professorate position at a regional university in central Missouri, little did I know the withdrawal problems I would have by not getting my regular fix of Wahoo’s fish tacos! There’s one local Mexican joint (sorry, no website) in town that I frequent, which serves fish tacos, but still, just not the same! So a couple of years ago out of shear desperation, I tried my hand at creating my own version. I’m fairly happy with the final dish, although since it’s impossible to get the correct fish (Wahoo or Mahi-Mahi) in this one-horse town, I had to settle with tilapia.

This affair with fish tacos reminds me of a similar story from one of my PhD colleagues from Colorado State University, and her quest for Mexican food in her new home in England. You can read her story (and great recipes) on Laura’s blog. Meanwhile, here’s my version of fish tacos. Enjoy!

Tacos de los Pescados de Colorado
(Colorado Fish Tacos)
Recipe by Terry Ownby, © 2007.

•    1 pound white flaky fish—Tilapia (wahoo or mahi-mahi if available)
•    1 lime, quartered
•    ¼—½ jalapeno, finely diced (more if you like spicy hot)
•    ¼ chopped cilantro leaves (fresh)
•    shredded white cabbage
•    shredded Colby and Monterey Jack cheese
•    corn tortillas

Marinade for Fish:
•    Old El Paso Taco Seasoning Packet
•    ¼ finely diced jalapeno
•    ½ chopped green onion
•    coarsely chopped cilantro
•    1 garlic glove finely diced
•    red onion, finely chopped to taste
•    ½ lime, juiced

Pico de Gallo:
•    diced Roma tomato
•    a few slices of red onion, diced
•    cilantro, chopped
•    ¼ finely diced jalapeno
•    ½ lime, juiced

Place fish in a medium size dish or mixing bowl. In a small saucepan, combine Old El Paso Taco Seasoning with water (amount indicated on package). Add remaining marinade ingredients, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture slightly thickens. Remove from heat and pour over fish. Let marinate for 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove fish from the marinade and cook. This could be on a BBQ grill, oven, or in a lightly oiled (or non-stick spray) skillet. Cook until opaque white and fish easily flakes with a fork. Fish should flake into chunks.

Heat the corn tortillas. Steaming is great and easy. Take a 10” skillet half filled with water and bring to a boil. Place a metal splatter screen (used to keep grease from splattering while frying) on the skillet. Place tortilla on screen and steam for a few moments. Using tongs or a fork, flip tortilla and steam other side until soft. Remove.

Place fish chunks and flakes on tortilla. Sprinkle with cheese, then cabbage, followed by Pico de Gallo. Give a fresh squeeze of lime, fold and bon appetite!

Friends, Good Food, and a Day in the Country

So this past Saturday I went to my long-time friend’s place out in the country, near Rocheport, Missouri. His name is David and I’ve known him since the mid-80s, when I was a graduate student at Webster University-Saint Louis. We are both commercial photographers by profession, and we worked together in a large studio in downtown St. Louis. I remember many times after a frustrating day in the studio, he and I would head off to the Central West End or out near Union Station to hoist a brewski or two. Although I think two or three of my favorite outings with him were for food, if you could call it that! One tavern (maybe Larry’s Tavern???) we used to visit served a dish called something like a “Flinger”….a plate full of chili, criss-cross fries, onions, and other stuff I don’t remember. Although on the other hand, he and I, and sometimes the rest of the studio gang would go to O.T. Hodges Chile Parlor and have a “Slinger”…which hasn’t changed in over 20 years….two cheeseburgers on a plate, smothered in chili with hashbrowns and a fried egg on top! Another favorite dive David and I used to visit was in St. Louis’ “Dogtown”, an Irish enclave. The joint was McDermott’s Tavern, now known as Pat’s Bar & Grill. Here, we used to get longneck bottles of Busch beer and deep-fried chicken livers with toast tips. Man, I look back at my grad days diet and it’s no wonder I ended up with stomach problems!!!

Anyway, after grad school David and I parted ways, but not our friendship. I moved up to Wisconsin were I photographed cheese, sausage, and chocolate for over 13 years. During that time, David flew away and spent time in England. We occassionaly hooked up during that time, like canoe camping up in the far north.  Eventually he moved back to central Missouri and spent a number of years in Columbia restoring his antique cars and then finally building his really cool, eclectic silver “folly” of a house out past Rocheport.

About two and half years ago, I was fortunate to land a full-time professor gig at the University of Central Missouri were I teach in the photography program. Turns out we’re only a bit over an hour drive time from each other! David is a marvelous host in that about twice a year he has these “gatherings” at his place. Old friends and new ones all converge on his place for an afternoon of great eats, like in “pot luck” and of course beer and wine. What’s interesting at these gatherings are his eclectic mix of friends. I always thought it was cool that I had known David for over 20 years, but this past Saturday I met some of his friends who’ve known him over 30 years. Wow! It’s always an interesting mix of people, mostly artist types and numerous professors from MU, Columbia College, or Stephens College. These gatherings are always a blast and this time he added to it by having an artist setup a kiln in the backyard and guests got to fire their pottery! Sadly, I had to leave before David fired up the grill in the evening for some imported British style “bangers and mash“. So, the moral here is life is good, when you have good friends, good food, and an excellent day in the country!

Dr. Gene Robertson on left wearing ballcap, David sitting in middle with blue shirt, my sweetheart sitting in back wearing pink, and some other artists from MU that I don’t remember their names, unfortunately!

Removing pottery from kiln in David’s backyard.