We’re lucky to work in a city where talent is everywhere but when it comes to making mouths water with picture-perfect food photography, there’s only one man we turn to. This month, we sat down with our favorite expert in exposure, Freelance Photographer and owner of Runaway Dish Studios, Denny Culbert.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in northeastern Ohio.
Tell us a little bit about your personal life. Where did you go to school? How did you get involved in photography?
My personal photographic journey started early. I’ve always been fascinated by cameras, image making and the ability to be transported to another place through a picture. I began studying photography my freshman year of high school with my first darkroom class and eventually shadowed several photographers at the Akron Beacon Journal newspaper. That was when I fell in love with the romantic idea of being a photojournalist for the rest of my life. That taste of community journalism led me to apply for one of the best photojournalism programs in the country at the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University.
During my college experience, I spent a summer in Scotland in a National Geographic-type field school run by Terry and Lyntha Eiler (both amazing documentary photographers). I traveled the Scottish countryside by train to document a sheep farmer/competitive sheepdog trainer, surfers in the cold waters of the most northern part of the country, and various day trips. As graduation approached, the opportunity to live in India for six months unexpectedly fell into my lap. That period of time taught me the importance of saying “yes” when offered the chance to be swept into someone else’s world.
Overall, my life and photography career has been a string of lucky occurrences that have led me far from Ohio. After India, I received a call from my friend Kevin Martin, a photo editor at the Advocate in Baton Rouge at the time, offering me an internship at the paper. That internship led to a full-time job at The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette. Since then Lafayette has been my home.
I left the paper in 2011 for an uncertain freelance career, married my wife Katie the following year and, with her support, began to carve out a niche in food photography. Our marriage and my decision to pursue food have both led to amazing meals, great new friends and the opportunity to travel throughout the world.
As a photographer, how does your work help others?
I’d like to think that my documentary and magazine work gives the outside world a look into the traditions and food ways of South Louisiana, maybe even drawing some people to come visit. My commercial work revolves around helping clients tell the story of their brand through still photography.
What things do you enjoy most about your work?
The constant education on the road is my favorite part of this job. I get to learn about heirloom crops while in the field with farmers, cooking techniques from chefs in their kitchens and how to farm and harvest oysters while on the boat with the oystermen. I’m constantly seeking out ways to improve my craft.
What subjects are your favorite to shoot? Why?
I have developed a fondness for food still life that allows me to play with the way light interacts with objects. However, my first love is being out in the field with the people who make up the food ways of our world. I’ve found that the people who cook, farm, hunt, fish and create in the culinary world are some of the most intellectually exciting and visually stimulating people to be around. They are constantly thinking and evolving in remarkable ways.
What’s the most bizarre shoot you’ve ever been on?
My first boucherie shoot was probably the most bizarre and affecting. Documenting the process of taking a large animal from living to cooked is a wild thing to witness close up through a camera lens.
Career-wise, if there was one brand, magazine or event you could shoot for, what would it be?
Magazines: Bon Appetit or National Geographic
Brands: Monkey 47 Gin (a small craft distillery in the Black Forest of Germany)
Tell us about life outside the office! Do you have any side projects or interesting hobbies?
Four years ago, Katie and I started Runaway Dish, a charity dinner series that was designed to be a chef community building exercise as well as the ultimate dining experience. That has evolved into a number of different things, including a magazine and a boucherie that draws chefs from all over the country once a year.
My only real hobby is of course an extension of my career and involves paddling a kayak and photographing wildlife, which is mostly birds and landscapes.
Is there something that I should have asked about?
The only thing left to talk about is what’s next. A few months ago Katie and I opened a studio and gallery space in downtown Lafayette that we’re calling Runaway Studios. I’ll be producing commercial shoots out of the space and hanging my artwork, but we want it to be more than that. So look out for Runaway Dish events to be produced out of that space along with opportunities to support local artists.