In Sara Stathas’ own words, “[her] favorite projects are rooted in powerful and organic storytelling — whether [she’s] one-on-one with a farmer in their orchard or working as a team in the studio, it’s the collaborative energy that makes connections happen.” So, it makes plenty of sense for Edible Milwaukee — a quarterly magazine and online platform focused on the production, distribution, and consumption of food in Milwaukee — to assign the seasoned photographer to Peck & Bushel, a family-owned and operated organic apple orchard in southeastern Wisconsin.
Below, the Milwaukee-based photographer explains the process behind her editorial assignment for Edible Milwaukee as well as her experiences returning to the orchard to shoot library images for the Fahey family.
How did you come to be involved in this project? Is this a first-time or an ongoing client? Could you also describe what that relationship has been like?
I’ve been shooting assignments for Edible Milwaukee since the new editor-in-chief took over in 2017. [Ever since], I’ve had work in each edition, everything from an organic apple orchard (featured in this blog), to a portrait of a James Beard-award-winning chef who started a program partnering top Milwaukee restaurants with meal donation programs. After I shot at the apple orchard, the owners hired me to come back during harvest season to do a library of images for them.
Can you describe the why, what, where, when, who, how of this project?
One of the few organic apple orchards in the Midwest, Peck & Bushel is about 30 miles northwest of Milwaukee. Husband and wife owners Jim and Jennifer, with no prior farming experience, started with 25 trees in 2010 and now have 30,000. Jennifer kept her job in Chicago but works the orchard along with their two teenagers. The family started selling apples from a stand, then built a new barn where they sell apples, apple products, fresh-baked pies, donuts, and home goods on fall weekends. I shot the assignment for Edible Milwaukee before the harvest season, so the retail store was closed, and the apples were still on the trees. I returned to shoot for the owners during a harvest weekend and had plenty of activity to cover.
What did collaboration with the client look like? What was involved in planning/preproduction for the shoot?
Edible Milwaukee sends me the writer’s story draft and I plan the shoot around that. For editorial assignments, my goal is to make images that coax people to read the story. I don’t work with an art director for Edible, but I get ideas from the editor. When I returned to the orchard to do the shoot for its owners, I had to plan for less time with them because the fall is their busy season. I tried to capture the energy of the harvest, customers picking apples and shopping in the retail space — all things that weren’t happening during the Edible Milwaukee assignment.
Did you have a sense of Edible Milwaukee’s goals for this project? Did you have a sense of your audience?
My goal for Edible Milwaukee is clean beautiful photos. For agricultural work, I want to convey the site’s charm along with the personalities working the land. For Peck & Bushel, my purpose was specifically to connect to an audience via a soon-to-be redesigned website. For instance, the pick-your-own activities, along with the retail offerings, draw van loads of families from miles around.
What was the creative process like on set?
I spent time on the Edible Milwaukee shoot visiting the family and touring spaces where I shot portraits and did set-up shots. I used all-natural light. Jennifer baked donuts and pies for the shoot. I drafted a shot list for the harvest day shoot that I discussed with the owners ahead of time. To which they added couple requests of their own. That day wasn’t as much about making portraits or set-up scenarios as it was shooting day-in-the life images at the orchard and in/around the barn during a peak harvest season day. I didn’t have an assistant for either Edible Magazine or the owners’ assignments.
Were there any particular challenges and/or any pleasant surprises that you encountered in planning or execution?
It was summer, 90 degrees, and humid for the Edible job. I had to ask the family to “dress for the season,” and they were real troopers, sporting flannel shirts, jeans, and boots. What wasn’t obvious in the photos that day is that a severe storm was rolling in.
What was your vision for this project and how was it reflected in your photos?
My vision was to shoot aesthetically simple and beautiful images both for the Edible assignment and for the library of images delivered to the farm owners. More often that not, I’m trying to make an “ugly” location look good, which was the opposite of the farm location, so I wanted to do my best to make the orchard, new barn, and energy of the place pop!
What was your favorite part of this project?
Meeting the family and learning about their business. Often times my favorite part of shoots is the time I can spend asking questions and listening to the stories of my subjects. This question and listening time truly informed my work. Their orchard is a real labor of love. The photos taken during the harvest showing crowds swarming the farm made my heart sing because it shows how much people love coming to this orchard.
What can you say about the reception of these photographs?
I got great feedback from both the magazine and the orchard owners, and I was excited to add images from both shoots to my website.
Is there anything else interesting that you can share about this project?
I brought a slab apple pie from the orchard to my grandma. She said she’d never had a better one. And she grew up on a farm!
See more of Sara Stathas at SaraStathas.com!