Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Vision to Visuals: Building An Aesthetic

By Baldev Duggal Published in The Business of Photography
Larry Letters' work at the Greenmarket Tavern in New York shows the unseen side of winemaking.
Larry Letters' work at the Greenmarket Tavern in New York shows the unseen side of winemaking.
There's nothing like an economic downturn to spark the creative wheels of entrepreneurs in a city like New York. Every down cycle in this city ends with a burst of entrepreneurial innovation that leads to the new up cycle. Greenmarket Tavern, the brand-new restaurant in the Photography District, is one such explosion of culinary creativity that brings together art, environmentalism and delicious food in one plate, raising the bar for a new culinary culture in the city.

The brainchild of restaurateurs Leon Bell and Larry McIntyre and Chef John Marsh, the Greenmarket Tavern is located a stone's throw away from our headquarters in the Photography District, also known as the Flatiron District. Bell and McIntyre are committed to creating a restaurant where Greenmarket ingredients and a Tavern atmosphere come together in an unpretentious and delicious way—a breath of fresh air in a time when the decadence and conspicuous consumption of the last decade are screaming to be replaced with artistic elegance and simplicity. The Greenmarket's motto "eat local, drink global" sets the tone of the restaurant, which features locally grown ingredients, supports local farmers and dramatically reduces the environmental footprint of each plate of food. Carefully selected wines from around the world serve as every gourmand's best friends at the Tavern. In addition to the unique culinary design of the restaurant, the founders have made photography and visual storytelling an integral part of the dining experience, which makes this Tavern the first fine-dining establishment in the city to connect with the spirit of the neighborhood in which it's located.

In a nod to the Photography District of New York, Greenmarket Tavern's brand strategists FnK Partners decided to push the "local flavor" concept of the restaurant to embrace the physical locale the restaurant lies within as well. Conceptualizing the tavern as a place of food, spirits and photography, their concept for the Tavern was to invite 20 chefs to create 20 different dishes and 20 photographers to present 20 of their images to create the aesthetic power of the restaurant.

For Duggal, to be involved in a project that celebrates the very district that we're responsible for creating more than 40 years ago is very exciting. When I opened our first photo lab in the Flatiron District in the early '60s, little did I know that we were laying the foundation for building the identity of an entire neighborhood that would come to be known as the Photography District. When our operations became the hub for artists, models, photographers and agencies, many photo studios and photo labs followed, and soon we had transformed the Flatiron District into the thriving Photography District of New York.

Larry Letters, the versatile photographer and musician whose work debuted at the opening of the restaurant in late January, is based in California. Choosing our Digital-C prints for printing his beautiful photographs, Letters largely has been working with our printing team from his base in the West Coast. He was chosen by FnK Partners to tell the story of wine through his unique photographs of wine country in California: "Photography is a lot like cooking. Humble ingredients become transcendent through the skill of the artist. The moment Erica Cassano showed us Larry Letters' personal project, we had that ping! of recognition that said, Wow, this is perfect for us. Who knew grapes were harvested at night…and who knew how astonishing those images could be? Larry brings us—and our customers—a side of winemaking not often seen. It's that kind of glimpse behind the curtain that we love to share with our customers."

Letters chanced upon the idea of creating photographs solely focused on wine on a trip to Portugal in 2008. When touring Porto, he took a boat up the Douro River to explore the Douro Valley and the wine and gastronomical cultures there. Realizing that back home in California, he was living in the center of a rich wine culture of its own, Letters decided to tell the story of what goes into the process of winemaking through his photographs.

"I began during the 2009 Harvest, photographing every part of the process I could," Letters says. "The tasting rooms, although imperative to the industry, and as grand as they can be, were the last place I wanted to explore. I'd much rather talk to the vintner, or the cellar workers, their families and friends, walk through the vines with a vineyard manager, pull some berries off a cluster to eat, smell the oak from a new French barrel, watch the meticulous sorting of fruit that happens prior to fermentation, taste aging wine out of the barrel or, better yet, from the press pan after crushing. All of this and much more contributes to the potential a given wine has to become memorable."

Letters' photographs of night harvesting of grapes are absolutely spectacular and show us a side of winemaking that most of us aren't aware of.
"I think my work symbolizes a global connection we share over wine," says Letters, "as well as the importance of knowing where what we consume comes from. I often have no idea myself. This project has made me appreciate every glass I drink and to think past what the label looks like. Pure toil goes into making a crafted wine. With the theme of the Tavern being local food/global wine, I feel this is symbolic because a restaurant is a place to commune with those we care about, to nourish ourselves, to reflect upon that nourishment, and to celebrate our likenesses and differences."

In the words of Florence Buchanan at FnK, who worked closely with curator Erica Cassano and Letters to choose the visual story for the restaurant: "Through the heroic quality of his portraits of the men and women who pick the grapes, Larry shows us the human side of how our wine gets to the table. We haven't seen illuminated vineyards before or grape pickers with miners' lamps. Like the chef, the photographer must be as much a master of technology and science as he or she is about art. You just can't get great, consistent results through guesswork."

Enveloping its patrons within a rich visual tapestry of what goes into the making of the delicate wine that's served at the restaurant, the Greenmarket Tavern founders provide a beautiful gift to its patrons—a treat made all the more poignant within the rich photographic history of this neighborhood in New York. Now that's the entrepreneurial creativity of our new decade!

For more information on Duggal, visit or check out the new blog at and see their newest articles on the printing, photography and fine-art industries.
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